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On Venezuela’s Regional Elections: Some Elephants in the room


Venezuela’s opposition was supposed to receive 3 million more votes than the government in the regional elections of October 15 according to the international media and the main pollster they rely on. Over 18 million Venezuelans were eligible to vote. Instead, the opposition received 700,000 fewer votes than the government nationwide and took only 5 of 23 governorships that were up for grabs. A sixth state, Bolivar, whose election was extremely tight and took days to call, may turn the opposition’s way if it can prove that about 2000 votes should have gone to their candidate.

DatanalisisRegionals

Venezuela’s voting system is highly automated and auditable. In fact, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for a 100% audit of the votes the day the results were announced. To put things in perspective, if the fraud claims in the state of Bolivar hold up, it would explain 0.07% of the opposition’s disastrous showing: 2000 votes out of the 3 million by which the opposition was supposed to win – so looking for actual fraud in the counting of ballots is not a promising approach for the opposition.  To make matters worse for the opposition, two of their losing candidates, including the high profile Henry Falcon, have conceded defeat.

Other writers (Ricardo Vaz, Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas and Lucas Koerner) have brilliantly debunked some other claims that have been made about these regional elections. The fact that regional elections in a South American country could make numerous international headlines tells you how badly the U.S. government and its many accomplices want Venezuela’s government overthrown. You would think the rest of Latin America is as developed and peaceful as Norway if, for example, moving some voting centers provokes outrage and threats from Canada and the USA.

Here are some observations the corporate media is unlikely to make even though they are key to understanding the opposition’s defeat. Arguably the most important, especially for those of us living in countries whose governments are threatening Venezuela’s, is the last one on the list:

  1. The core opposition leadership is very repulsive

Since winning parliamentary elections in 2015, the opposition leaders have openly bragged about lobbying foreign banks and governments not to loan to Venezuela. They’ve also welcomed Trump’s sanctions on Venezuela. None of this has the support of the majority of Venezuela voters, not even according to the opposition-aligned pollster, Datanalisis. In fact, judging by these election results, Datanalisis probably underestimates by a large amount the public’s revulsion with the opposition’s tactics. Openly trying to make an economic crisis worse comes with a political price. Who knew?

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Additionally, as Lucas Koerner explained “Unlike in 2015, Chavistas now perceive US sanctions and right-wing terror as much more immediate threats, which may have motivated them to vote in spite of their disappointment at the national government’s continuing inaction on the economic front.”

Prominent opposition leaders (Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez, Maria Corina Machado, Julio Borges, Henry Ramos among others) all backed five different attempts to forcibly remove the elected government – most notoriously the U.S. backed coup of April 2002 which temporarily succeeded and installed a dictatorship under Pedro Carmona. Never forget that the New York Times editorial board gushed over that coup as a victory from democracy.

  1. The pollster the international media relies on, Datanalisis, is biased towards the opposition

Venezuela’s current president Nicolas Maduro was elected in April of 2013. He was endorsed by Hugo Chavez shorty before Chavez died.  About a year and a half later Venezuela entered into a very severe economic crisis that, as expected, took a huge toll on the government’s popular support. The international media has routinely and exclusively cited Maduro’s approval ratings as measured by Datanalisis which is run by Luis Vicente Leon. He regularly writes op-eds for El Universal (one of Venezuela’s largest newspapers) and appears on Venezuela’s private TV networks and harshly criticizes the government.  In an op-ed weeks ago he likened Maduro’s government to a kidnapper. Mind you, in the Venezuelan context, Leon can still be regarded as a moderate opposition voice, but common sense should lead reporters to be far more cautious in citing Datanalisis polls. In 2015, in chavismo’s worse defeat since 1998, the government received 41% of the vote even though Datanalisis consistently claimed Maduro’s approval rating was at around 20%.

  1. The media ignores poll results, even from Datanalisis, that reflect badly on the opposition and/or well on the government.

The chart below is from Datanalisis and, given its bias (see item 2), may well be understated. In June of this year,  55% said they approved of Chavez, more than any other Venezuelan politician. It is very safe to say that Maduro is not nearly as popular, but Maduro is still the candidate Chavez endorsed before his death, and the opposition’s leadership is still dominated by people who openly hated Chavez and worked to violently overthrow him.

ChavezApprovalRating

  1. The “unlevel playing field” thesis is nonsense

“We’re in a dictatorship – so please vote for us!”

What explains this glaringly contradictory discourse by the opposition? Why did they agree to participate at all in regional elections?

One big reason: contrary to what the media and various big NGOs have claimed, strident opposition voices are all over the print and TV media. For example, here, here, here and here are op-eds in Venezuela’s leading newspapers alleging that the regional elections were fraudulent.

  1. The US and its allies threaten to punish Venezuelan voters if they don’t support the opposition

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration combined terrorist attacks with economic sanctions to coerce Nicaraguan voters to vote against the Sandinistas. By 1990, these tactics worked and the corporate media was overjoyed. In 2004, with the cover provided by France and a Liberal government in Canada, the Bush administration installed a brutal dictatorship in Haiti.

Both Reagan and “W” Bush were eventually issued halos by the western media despite their gruesome crimes. This kind of media environment makes it possible for USA, Canada and others to demand a Venezuelan opposition victory at the polls as proof that elections were free and fair. This is an attack on the democratic rights of Venezuelans and it also badly undermines the “unlevel playing field” thesis.  As Ricard Vaz put it “In the end you can use government resources in Venezuelan elections, as long as they are US government resources!”

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