January 15, 2008

The case for primaries

Katy says: A comment by fellow blogger Miguel regarding primaries got me thinking.

Miguel was reminding me about the experience with Copei in 1993. Back then, Copei decided to hold an open primary, where all registered voters could participate, to pick its presidential candidate. It was an unprecedented move by a political party in Venezuela, and the people chose then-Zulia governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz over the candidate of the party establishment, Eduardo Fernández. Rafael Caldera was unwilling to participate, and ended up winning the election that year on a slim margin.

It's tempting to think that we should repeat this process. Who could be against such a wise move? Let the people decide who the candidates should be. In theory, I'm all for it.

The problem is that Venezuela right now does not fit theory well. Back in 1993, it was fairly easy to discern some of the ground rules. There was a single, national organization that decided what the rules were, and there were only two candidates with any chance running for a single, national office. It was a much simpler operation.

Now, not only would we have to decide among candidates for governors and mayors, but also for council members, members of parish boards and state legislators.

I guess you could argue that you could focus on choosing only candidates for governor and mayors in a primary, and let the rest of the field duke it out. You could also come up with some sort of formula whereby the representatives to city councils and state legislatures follow the proportion of votes each party got in each state.

I think this isn't viable, but maybe I'm being obtuse. We also have to realize it takes a lot of work, and the costs of carrying out such an operation may outweigh the benefits.

What are the pros and cons of implementing something like this? Is the electorate ready for a move like this? Are the parties? I honestly don't know.