A tale of two oppositions

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We walk the same direction but different sides of the road...Ìû“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief it was the epoch of incredulity…”.

Those of you who have read “A tale of two cities” surely recall the memorable opening paragraph of Dickens’s masterpiece, which started depicting the turn of events in France and its distinction from its historical Anglo-saxon rival.

What does pre-revolutionary XVIIIth-century France and its contrast with Britain have to do with Venezuela’s self-destructing “revolution” in the XXI century or those “coup-plotters” from la MUD coalition?

One could argue that, as with Britain and France back then, over the past sixteen years there have always existed not two different nations, but two different oppositions, nowadays branded as “radicals” and “appeasers.”

Many people have their theories about why this gap exists. My particular take is that the divide within the opposition is based on the lack of consensus for defining the type of regime that sits in office since the start of chavismo. This difference in opinion has led to many misguided steps.

On one side, the current “appeasers” are the faction who still believes that this is a government which has transgressed the Constitution and hasn’t delivered governance to the people, but they still don’t label it a dictatorship. On the other front we have the “radicals”, the ones who scream “Dictadura” whenever they can.

The problem that lies ahead for the democratic opposition in Venezuela is about a proper diagnosis for the current state of things, something that hasn’t been properly pondered about since 1999.

Venezuela under chavismo and its multifarious gradations in governing the country has shifted from a flawed democracy to a hybrid regime and, up until 2013, into an ever more totalitarian regime.

The idea that Venezuela was a “hybrid regime” made sense up until, say 2005. By then, the government was one that legitimized itself through elections while tampering the political institutions in place, in order to secure its power.

When the late Hugo Chavez championed a new Constitution, granting him more powers and setting the stage for chavismo to stay in power until 2021, 2030, dosmilsiempre, the demised “Comandante” secured dominion of most of the nation’s political institutions, after a period of sharp political instability, which included the failed coup in April 2002, the national strike in late 2002, a defeated recall-referendum in 2004 and the withdrawal of the opposition in the 2005 parliamentary ballot box. All of the pursued gambits of the opposition (back then the “Coordinadora Democratica”) in any of the aforementioned circumstances had to do with a shortsighted manner of not upholding the little spaces left in the political institutions in order to stonewall the late “Comandante”’s schemes.

Within that period, as chavismo was converting Venezuela into a hybrid regime, today’s appeasers were actually right. Strategies for stopping chavismo back then, should have focused on hindering chavista’s power grab on every branch of Government and try their fortunes in the ballot box by building popular support prior to the staggering oil windfall that would commence in 2004. Let us not forget that Chavez’s polling numbers in 2002 were somewhat similarly dreadful as those of today’s Nicolas Maduro.

Now, after the demised “Comandante” won reelection with a comfortable margin in 2006, chavismo became ever more authoritarian. Its oil-might and populist agenda consolidated its place in history by dismantling term limits for office, nationalizing industries of the economy, shutting down or buying out private media outlets, securing enabling laws and more executive powers; in short bypassing any principle of a given democratic political process.

Between 2007 and 2013, as the hybrid regime consolidated and removed any veto forces that might disturb chavistas’ tenure in office, the opposition chose to follow the prescription of retaking the electoral card as THE way for ousting chavismo, clinching to small but important victories in local elections and in the parliamentary elections of 2010.

Putting aside the tiffs between appeasers and radicals, the opposition deserves some credit during this period for uniting themselves in electoral processes and raising confidence from its constituents in them (this might’ve actually gained skepticism in the presidential elections in 2013 but that is other fish to fry later). Unfortunately as they eyed the prize of “el coroto” in 2012, selecting Capriles to be the contender against Chavez and the Petrostate, things as we regret to remember with a modicum of guayabo didn’t go as planned.

So what does all of this tells us for 2015?. The MUD coalition in its majority wants parliamentary elections to take place. They claim that a precipitous fall in the Government’s ratings in the polls would pave the way for a huge gain in the National Assembly, and a morale boost that may open the doors for an exit to this mess.

Although I reckon that one objective should be to prep up for the Parliamentary elections, whenever and if the Government decides to call them, this is not an end point. Feeding the expectations of its constituents with the parliamentary card could pose a huge credibility threat to the MUD’s political calculations.

Back in 2010, the opposition clinched 52% of the popular vote but less than 40% of the National Assembly’s 165 seats. In that year, the electoral turnout was almost 70%. The electoral rules (still in place) are based on an appalling combination of gerrymandering (which backfired for chavismo in 2010) and malapportionment (where it succeeded), which grants chavistas more seats in the Legislative body with less votes.

The best that the MUD coalition can hope for is to win a majority in the National Assembly without locking a 2/3 majority for debugging the other political institutions, the main goal of this strategy for ousting the regime later.

Attaining this would require convincing the vast majority of the constituents to turn out and vote, and channel disgruntled ex-chavistas frustrations for voting for them. One thing is Maduro’s ratings or the PSUV’s popularity, and another is that public frustration automatically translates to the opposition’s camp. As former UCAB rector President Luis Ugalde highlighted in an interview for ProdavinciCon este gobierno no hay salida. Y con la Oposición, tal como está, tampoco.” – there is no solution with this government, or with this opposition.

The opposition must do more than denounce the status quo, because simply decrying chavismo’s many faults does not make a narrative or a viable alternative.

By dropping the hybrid-regime facade, today’s radicals are quite right in shouting “Dictadura!”. Even if the opposition can cope with all of the challenges it faces (jail terms, harassment, media shutout, funding problems, etc.), I find it very difficult to believe the Parliamentary elections will be a game changer. My deepest concern is that the MUD coalition seems to be focusing its political agenda on the parliamentary elections, selling it to its supporters as the exit-strategy of this crisis the same way Nicolas Maduro promises surfacing our financial woes with a “Dios proveerá” economic policy.

If this scheme is mistaken, the expectations of the MUD’s constituents and many of the disaffected chavistas who might support it could turn against it, leaving room for a rabble-rouser to emerge from the shadows and lead their frustrations as well as those of displeased chavistas.

Not so long ago, Henrique Capriles engaged with a disgruntled citizen who asked him what to do, and his rejoinder was “organize!”. More disgruntled people may question not just Capriles, but the entire MUD bloc for addressing the economic, political and social mess that is Venezuela in these days.

It is crucial that both appeasers and radicals find common ground on what to do. The initiative of “Acuerdo para la Transición” could be a starter. Parliamentary elections are as important as creating a viable alternative to our macroeconomic disaster, and a governing plan ahead in the coming years for the right set of policies that could stabilize this mortally-ailing patient named Venezuela (whether is ebola or chikungunya, again).

If we learned anything from last year’s protests, it is that these demonstrations need to be focused toward achievable goals. Demanding fair conditions for this year’s elections, or pressuring the regime against noticeable transgressions to the Constitution (like what happened in late December 2014) are a few examples for making the parliamentary strategy more credible and boosting its chances of succeeding.

Uniting the two oppositions is going to require a common goal. In merging the tactics of the radicals with the strategy of the appeasers, taking to the streets to demand fair conditions for elections could serve to rally both sides of the opposition to a common cause.

1 COMMENT

  1. There is no way the government will lose these parliamentary elections. They will do whatever it takes to win them, even if it means this: http://caracaschronicles.com/2012/08/14/caraetabla-fraud/. Although they will try to win with as little fraud as possible, and there are many steps they can take to minimize the need of it.

    If the opposition were to win these election, that would encourage people to sign for a recall referendum against Maduro, and chavistas just can’t have that. They just can’t. Sorry.

    Having say that, I still think the opposition should give a good fight in these elections. If chavistas end up needing to commit massive fraud to win, and there is clear proof of it, it may not get pretty for them, depending on how the international community reacts.

    • “If the opposition were to win these election, that would encourage people to sign for a recall referendum against Maduro, and chavistas just can’t have that. They just can’t. Sorry.”

      Actually I kinda doubt Chavistas are very worried about a recall, since in order to recall Maduro the opposition would have to get more than 7.5 million votes against him, a pretty tall order since the opposition has never gotten that many votes in any election ever. Not impossible, but difficult.

      As for your claims about “as little fraud as possible”, there’s not any evidence that there’s been any fraud before, yet you are just certain that they will commit fraud now?

  2. The electoral rules don’t grant chavistas more seats, they grant the small-margin-winner a far wider victory. Yes, this is also tampered by the gerrymandering, but in theory, with 60% vote the oposition could get up to 72% of the seats.

    The thing with the parlamentary elections tactic is that as long as that anti-Maduro outcry doesn’t reflect in a boleta electoral, Maduro will have some room for negotiation (or for declining his own resignation) inside and outside Venezuela.

    It´s not us that Maduro is afraid of, its the venezolano de a pie, UNASUR and los gringos.

    • “…It´s not us that Maduro is afraid of, its the venezolano de a pie, UNASUR and los gringos.”

      The “venezolano de a pie” means barely anything to maburro after they have blasted their head with a shotgun or a 9mm.

      • There´s a reason why the Interior Ministry paid or the burials of the two resistencia kids murdered last week. They don’t like were this is heading with the colectivos nor does Mauro actively supports resolution 8610. They don’t want to stir the pot too much, just about enough to cancel parlamentary elections.

        The quintessence of chavista “democracy” is elections. It’s not the same for them -or more accurately (and sad), for venezuelans- to have 10.000 students take up the streets in the name of freedom than to have 20 million people telling you just to shove it up your fundillo. El proceso has to end with an electoral blow of vast proportions.

        We have to work with whatever we have, and Venezuela is no fountain of liberal and democratic thinking.

  3. I’m not sure I agree with you regarding the differences between radicals and “appeasers”. I’m pretty sure the latter are well aware that this government is, and has been, a dictatorship for some time.

    On that they agree.

    What they don’t agree about is how to go about bringing change.

    I think the “radicals” have been wrong about a number of important things from a tactical (and sometimes moral) standpoint — whether it was Maria Corina backing Carmona (and visiting with Bush), or not recommending participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections, or Leopoldo being the driving force behind Primero Justicia’s withdrawal from those same elections, or La Salida, which was, just as the “appeasers” warned, too early — wrong timing.

    The “appeasers” see the problems and challenges clearly, they are just more pragmatic about (a) having to earn support from former Chavistas, and (b) the challenges of both regime change and governance in the years ahead.

    The opposition does need to further organize, on a micro as well as national level, and the Parliamentary elections are a very good excuse to do so.

    • Completely agree.

      The “radicals” seem to believe that they could turn off chavismo and turn on their government, and the “appeasers” seem to believe that you have to negotiate with chavistas, form a coalition government (for whatever years necessary) and then become a democracy again.

      They both know that this is a whatever-name-you-want-to-put to the worst government in the history of Venezuela.

      • Quite possibly one of the worst in History..at least in the America’s The text books will not treat these Joker’s kindly, or will the world and drug courts

  4. “Back in 2010, the opposition clinched 52% of the popular vote”

    I’d like to remind that the MUD’s vote in 2010 (calculated via “List vote” in each state) was 47.2%, opposite 48.2% of the PSUV.

    • YES!

      Stop with the self-delusion. PPT was not part of MUD at the time of those elections. They were trying to become a sort of “Third way”. Only after getting a meager 2% at the parliamentary elections did PPT decide to join MUD.

      Did we get screwed over by gerrymandering? Yes.
      Did we win the popular vote? No.

      PSUV : 5,451,419 votes (48.26%) – 96 seats (58.18%)
      MUD : 5,334,309 votes (47.22%) – 64 seats (38.78%)
      PPT : 354,677 votes (3.14%) – 2 seats (1.21%)
      Others non-indigenous: 155,429 votes (1.38%) – 0 seats

      Indigenous representatives 3 seats (1.81%)
      2 from a party allied to PSUV, 1 from a party allied to MUD.

  5. I sense an increasing level of urgency with regard to answering the question of radicalism versus appeasement due to an increasing level of oppression, with opposition leaders being aggressively targeted. The voter and the politician can have different viewpoints and that is probably a source of this division. Both want to bring change, but the voter depends on the politician and the politician depends on a functional political system. If the system is broken the politician may call the voter to take the streets and call for change, by force if necessary, or if the voters perceive that politicians are just sitting on their asses then the voters may take matters into their own hands and organize a good ol’ fashioned lynch mob. As a voter you also ask what you should do if you start seeing the people you might be able to vote for arrested. Should you go out now and start throwing molotovs or should you wait and see if things clear up by the time elections come around, if at all. It’s a pretty tight situation right now.

  6. Opposition has more fear to win, that the Chavismo to loose!

    Great insight Diego!

    The reason why oppo is divided is because it has been drafted this way by the regime . Any platform issues that divide, are promoted intensely by the regime media aparatik to gain traction in the discursive.
    Black/ white, Rico/ pobre, radical – golpista/ oposicion democratica, y un largo etc.
    The opportunity is for Venezuelan to unite against the foreign invasion, and it’s local corrupting machine, if this message is framed, the whole hose of cards comes down….
    La Lucha debe ser por recuperar la soberanía y La Paz. Luego seguirá la justicia y la prosperidad.

  7. Now that Pepe Mujica has retired, perhaps he would be a great leader or negotiator. I know, a bit out there, but who can argue with his name and history that he is not with the barrio. How much better Veneuzela would be with his tolerances and a more forward thinking economic systems Would drive the Chavista narcoterroists nuts. Doubt he would want the job, think he would be great though….

  8. I don’t think that appeassers think that this is not a dictatorship, we just don’t wan’t to be killed or jailed and hope that the goverment will still risk going to an election they can lose.

    On the other hand, I think that Chavismo was almost impossible to defeat in a national election between 2004-2009 where there was a consumption boom boosted by petrodollars and a somewhat functional private sector.

    The only way that a 2015 opposition win can really make a real impact would be if chavismo become suddenly willing to seriously go for a non-radical reasonable system, wich seems extremely unlikely, otherwise it would at least be a nice slap in the face for the goverment that will make them do even more crazier shit that may finally force any reasonable mind ramaining in power to put and end to this.

    I know we always say this, but this time if we lose this election we might as well just give up and accept that we may never be able to do anything to save the country. My bet would be on very low turnout and a decent win for the opposition.

  9. I think, unfortunately, that, as per GetAShrink’s comment above, it will be very difficult to beat Chavismo in elections, especially considering the Petro State intimidation/advantages, plus outright voting machine fraud, present from Smartmatic’s first fraud in the 2004 Recall Referendum. Worse yet, I see all the recent coup-mongering as setting-up the rationale for a probable cancellation/at least postponement of Parliamentary elections–Maduro’s recent speeches reiteratively hint at this, mentioning the Oppo “jugando a doble bandos”, etc.–all scripted probably from the lap-dog’s master (Sen. Melendez’s reference).

  10. My take on this, is that, first, VP and MCM should not be seen as radicals. Because how would you call the actual pro-violence folks?

    The appeasers have one issue. That they don’t know how to confront non-democratic regimes. They don’t have the necessary tools for that and they are trying to fix something that requires a wrench with a hammer. But that’s also a reflection of our society and the opposition as a whole.

    Opposition electorate, prefers to solve things on the ballot that on the streets. I know and I agree with you that this strategy isn’t viable, or at least not on its own. The primaries that elected Capriles were a huge sign of this. People wanted appeasers. Both Capriles and Perez were that. The preferred arguments in favor of any candidate were “I am going to vote for him because he can get more chavista votes” and “I will not vote for MCM because chavistas won’t vote for her, although she is better than the rest”.

    So, how are you to deal with that?

    The government strategy seems to be to jail any person stirring things up a little bit, before it actual creates a movement.

    Your goal is lofty. Uniting the opposition and having a common strategy, but how? the devil is in the details.

    • My labelling of “radicals” and “appeasers” is just a manner to identify the two pools of oppositions within the opposition. I concurr with you on the point that I don’t consider the “radicals” radicals. That label is often misguided and portrays McM and VP among others as sheer lunatics (which is wrong). Appeasers believe that the way out is by playing with the rules of the status quo, not changing the status quo. For me its a problem of misdiagnosing the situation

      • But I don’t think they are diagnosing it wrong. I don’t think they are shy about calling the government authoritarian. In fact, both Chuo and Borges have done it. The issue is that they are trying to solve it with the wrong tools.

        Everyone in the opposition (perhaps with the exception of Miguel Angel Santos who seems to be in total denial mode) are calling this system authoritarian.

    • It’s not that the electorate doesn’t want MCM as candidate, it’s that chavistas disqualified her. The political system is broken until proven otherwise.

  11. Hello Carlos, thanks for the article!

    I do have a nit to pick with you:

    “Uniting the two oppositions is going to require a common goal.”

    I think that goal is well known to all and sundry who oppose the current regime.

    What we need to do is unite around the strategies required to achieve that goal.

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