January 10, 2008

Rules of engagement

Katy says: A New Electoral Year has begun. The main focus right now on the minds of local politicos is - or should be! - the State and Local Elections of October 2008.

Candidates for governor, mayors, councilmembers and state assembly-people have to be registered by April of this year. Undoubtedly, the opposition will have to come to some sort of agreement over who to run where. So before they hunker down to negotiate, here are my tips for things each party should keep in mind before negotiating, for everyone's benefit.

1) Before you begin, think of one big position you would be willing to give up. All negotiations entail compromise. It would be nice if every party thought of one sure-fire candidate, one juicy prize they would be willing to give up on for the sake of unity. If you cannot think of a single high-profile post you would be willing to cede to a different candidate, then you are in no position to negotiate. This doesn't mean you have to make it public, but it does help put you in a negotiating frame of mind.

2) Don't feel the need to compromise on everything. Compromise is good but it entails costs. The public doesn't want total unity, they just want to win. So in places where we are assured to win - either because the electorate is heavily opposition or because chavismo is weak - don't feel the need to overdo it. For example, we don't really need a unity candidate in Chacao, Baruta or the Zulia and Nueva Esparta governorships. Who knows, it may even be healthy to let the parties compete in those places so we can focus on others. Which would be...

3) Focus on the big states where you can make high-profile gains. These would be the states that combine poor governance by regional leaders with a high profile and, most importantly, a high budget and a large population. Winning Delta Amacuro would be nice, but it doesn't hold a candle to getting back the Carabobo governorship. States to focus on also include Lara, Mérida, Táchira, Miranda and Anzoátegui. Cities to focus on include Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Valencia, Mérida, San Cristóbal and all the municipalities in Caracas, including the Mayor-at-Large.

4) Send a heavyweight to a swing state. After the "No" win last December, we realized there was a red-state blue-state dynamic in Venezuela as well. Yet while it would be simple to simplify thing this way, some states are actually caught in the middle. For example, chavismo eked out a victory in Falcón for fewer than 800 votes. Even though it is still technically a chavista state, it is up for the taking if the right person comes along. Why not ask Rosales to run for the governor's office?

5) Reward regional leadership, but don't reward history. The movement that led to the December victory included people who may not be part of a political party but who certainly don't want to feel left out. Furthermore, there are many people that have been working the grassroots for years in getting out the vote. These upcoming elections would be a great opportunity to reward them for all the hard work they have put in by supporting them and getting them elected. However, there are some politicians who feel entitled without having earned it. I'm talking about people who may have ruled a long time ago but have either been missing in action for the past few years (Enrique Mendoza or the Salas family) or were openly calling for abstention just a few weeks ago (Ledezma). These people are a liability to the opposition movement, and in no way should opposition groups feel they owe them anything. It would simplify the process if they were kept in the sidelines.

If the goal is to win, then we have to negotiate. But if negotiate we must, let's try and do it succesfully.