II. The “democratic revolution” is a contradiction in terms

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The essence of a revolutionary regime is permanence. The essence of a democratic regime is alternance. “No volverán” is the essential revolutionary slogan – the ideological rejection of the possibility of alternance. A regime founded on the promise of “no volverán” incubates skepticism about its commitment to democracy.

The prominence of “no volverán” as a chavista slogan explains much of the opposition’s basic unwillingness to believe in this or any other chavista appointed elections authority. “After all,” their thinking goes “they have already announced it clearly – no volveremos.” Seen in this light, any and every CNE concession is a sop to international opinion. The radical opposition sees the revolution as purely revolutionary, the “democratic” part as little more than window-dressing.

I think that’s a mistake. The tension encapsulated in the oxymoron is the defining characteristic of chavismo. The government long ago decided that its ultimate goals can only be met if Chavez can retain some minimally plausible claim to democratic legitimacy. Without the strategic ambiguity embodied in the phrase, chavismo would not be chavismo.

The opposition, by withdrawing from the vote, has tried to force the government’s hand, to push it into resolving the tension between democracy and revolution by becoming frankly and exclusively revolutionary (and thereby, anti-democratic.) That is a trap the government has not and will not fall into.

The balancing act the government is pushed to attempt is necessarily precarious – although that’s momentarily obscured by the oil bonanza. Absent the petrowindfall, the tensions inherent in chavismo’s foundational oxymoron will become harder and harder to manage. The only question is whether the opposition will be in any way able to capitalize on those difficulties when the time comes.

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