Election? What election?

It's now less than two months out from a Venezuelan election, and the mood is decidedly non-electoral. Why is this so? Should we care?

It’s now less than two months out from a Venezuelan election, even if it’s just a local one (for mayors and city councillors). Normally, at this point in the cycle, the air we collectively inhale is inescapably electoral. Even if the “official campaign period” (and who has ever really cared about that formality) starts November 8, we’d have expected by now to see the streets rife with posters, newspapers awash with paid ads, and, most importantly, candidates flooding the airwaves with back-and-forth mudslinging about each other’s failures.

This time, though, there’s little fanfare to the opposition pre-campaign, beyond the sporadic digital banner, mostly sponsored by candidates in disputed municipalities (i.e. El Hatillo, where there is no Unity candidate so it’s an opposition free-for all) and Libertador (where Antonio Ecarri is running as an oppo candidate outside the MUD).

There are a number of reasons for this. Money is scarce, donors are terrified to give lest they be labeled corrupt, so many parties are waiting to break their piggy banks closer to election time. As CaracasChron readers are hyper-aware, there are just no broadcast media out there willing to promote opposition voices, and the days of free publicity for candidates via interviews and talk shows are a receding memory.

Capriles has held a few big events showcasing his roster of Unity hopefuls, but unless you were physically there, there’s not much proof that they ever happened. And let’s get real: the opposition electorate are, frankly, ladillados. Voter fatigue is pretty intense and lots of people are just trying to deal with life in general far away from the election vortex. Understandable.

What doesn’t make sense is the near radio-silence coming from the other side, y’know, the one that has a monopoly on cash, media and forced mobilization.

Right about now, if this were.. oh, I don’t know…2008, Chavismo would be midway through its all-out pre-campaign orgy of petropopulism, brought to you in carefully choreographed rallies with a cast of thousands of public employees, broadcast through the ever so impartial state media system, pushing the message that if the opposition wins, [fill in with your apocalyptic horror of choice] is certain.

But this is not the case. Again, many reasons might explain this. The government is also strapped for cash, but then again, winning these next elections will assure them municipal coffers for 4 years to come.

The bigger problem is that Maduro, in case you didn’t already notice, is not Chávez, so grandstanding next to candidates has been pretty much written off as futile. And, let’s not forget that there’s much dissent in the ranks as to imposed candidacies in safe chavista states, to the point where it might be inconvenient to hold public rallies that might show these fissures off to the world.

Still, none of this is enough to explain the sudden pause in our 14 year-long tradition of electoral Bacchanalia. It’s not like Maduro’s shied away from the public spotlight. Yet, instead of holding rallies beside his trusty steeds, he’s busy riffing on Victor Hugo in front of the National Assembly, or hamming it up in front of the Military Academy, or publicizing his Christmas agenda through a national cadena.

Yes, he is in damage control mode over our imploding economy, and yes he has to keep his legitimacy as head of the armed forces afloat. But his lackadaisical approach to promoting PSUV candidacies signal one of three things:

  1. he’s carefree since, whatever happens, elections will be rigged,
  2. he’s too busy staving off a near collapse of the economy to care about elections (scratch that and add it to option 1.), or
  3. he’s not planning on even having elections in December.

The 18 elections of the last 15 years make up the backbone of bolivarianismo’s claim to the democratic mantle. Elections are what Chávez used to mobilize his people, glorify his cause, and vilify his enemies. To those who say Maduro can do what he wants, remember there’s a whole base of PSUV candidates waiting for their turn at bat.

In fact, I’m willing to go off on a limb here and say that the Chavista base is probably hungrier for elections than the opposition is. After all, the 8D has been marketed to the opposition by Capriles as a quasi-plebescite, whereby we will massively vote using a system we have called fraudulent, all in the hopes that the institutions we have called corrupt will somehow agree to cede power when faced with a well-meaning majority (I don’t get it either).

Maduro is not Chávez, but Chávez’s legacy of conniving, strategic perpetuation in power lives on, and I don’t quite get how it’s being executed through this electoral indifference, deliberate or not. It’s weird, and worrisome, and I kind of like it.

Emiliana Duarte

Emi is a cook, a lover of animals, politics, expletives, and Venezuela. She is the co-founder of Caracas Chronicles LLC and Managing Editor if the site until December 2017.