The Simple Majority Con

Letting the opposition win a simple majority of seats may be just what the doctor ordered in terms of stabilizing the regime, co-opting the opposition's leadership and entrenching chavismo in power.


So everyone and their mothers is predicting an unprecedented defeat for chavismo in the upcoming legislative elections, which translates to an historic victory for the opposition, and the dawn of change for Venezuela.

What’s the worst that could happen?

The opposition could win a simple majority in the National Assembly (AN). That’s what.

An opposition simple majority in the AN is all the government needs to ensure a modicum of stability, buy itself some governance, and silence those pesky international critics who question the state of our democracy, while affording the MUD very little room for effective political action.

Which pretty much sucks, unless that’s what the opposition wants.

First, the basics:

Simple majority = 84 diputados.

⅗ majority = 101 diputados.

⅔ majority = 112 diputados.

For a full description of what kind of powers each majority has, click here.

So why is 50% + 1 a honeypot?! A simple majority gives you quorum, yes, which allows the assembly to sit. Beyond that, it largely brings some administrative perks, and then allows you to propose certain things and call for others. We could approve presidential trips abroad, sure, elect the assembly’s own leadership and appoint special oversight committees. But all the yummy powers require a 3/5ths or a 2/3rd majority, or a signature from either the TSJ or some other government-controlled body (such as the poetically named Moral Council of the Republic, which boasts the likes of this guy, and this bastion of disinterested virtue).

Ah! but what about legislating, you ask?

The dirty little secret is that what a simple majority can do is fluid, and that fluidity is never going to work in your favor unless, of course, you happen to control the executive branch and the Supreme Tribunal as well. If you do, then a simple majority becomes whatever you want it to be. Kind of like that song from Journey.

Take, for example, when back in 2004, the chavista caucus controlled 56% of AN seats, and lacked the ⅔ majority required to pass Organic Laws. No biggie. They just ignored that rule, and approved the Ley Orgánica del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, by mayoría simple.

In a balls-to-the-wall violation of the Constitution, 92 government party yea’s not only modified the number of Supreme Court (TSJ) magistrates to make room for 12 die-hard chavista judges, but subsequently changed the law so that future TSJ nominations would also require a simple majority approval after 3 rounds of voting.

But simple majority versatility works both ways.

Like in December of 2010, when an overwhelmingly chavista AN that had enjoyed five years of virtually unopposed domination suddenly realized their total legislative control would be downgraded to simple majority in a matter of days, now that 67 recently elected MUD diputados were standing in the way of ⅔ and ⅗ votes.

They just went ahead and changed what simple majority means, and called it a day.

Remember when, back in 2005, the AN was completely red, and Art. 111 of the internal debate rules (RID) stated that a ⅗ majority vote was needed in order to call for closure of a debate? Guess how many votes are needed once the rules were modified by the outgoing AN in 2010? Simple majority.

Or how about that ⅗ majority requirement for revoking a plenary decision, as per Art. 111 of the 2005 RID? After 2010, that’s up to a simple majority, too.

Here’s a good one: According to Art. 107 of the 2005 RID, stripping a diputado of their speaking rights for the remainder of that day’s session was subject to a ⅗ majority vote. Now it only takes a – you guessed it – simple majority, to silence a diputado, FOR UP TO A MONTH.

After Cilia Flores and her wrecking crew bulldozed over 64 Articles of the RID that fateful last week of 2010, a determined group of incoming MUD diputados challenged this decision before the TSJ.

And, of course, they got properly ignored.

The point is, a simple majority, meaning an opposition victory, is only as good as this government wants – or will allow it – to be. An in this case, it’s the perfect vehicle for appeasement. Because while the MUD will be busy celebrating its formal triumph, the TSJ will be hard at work making sure nothing of substance gets done. And, to quote Journey once again, that’s exactly the way they want it.

Of course, there’s always the chance that MUD will win by a landslide. Here’s hoping that we do. But let’s get real: Chavismo has been calling the shots for the last 15 years. It would be naïve to think that an opposition win this coming Sunday isn’t playing right into the hands of those who excel at nothing, except for staying in power.

Which leads me to wonder what our opposition wants.

Dorothy Kronick’s piece lucidly hints at a MUD-Chavismo negotiation that I wholeheartedly believe is in the works, and that I am deeply distrustful of. But unlike Dorothy, who gives the opposition bloc the upper hand at the negotiating table, I happen to think it’s certain factions of the MUD who crawled up to knock on Chavismo’s door back in 2014, in a move that is purely driven by self-interest, at best; survival instincts, at most.

Please don’t peg me as a hater: I can speak personally to the monumental efforts that the MUD is making to organize voters and carry out the most incredible elections day operation ever. There are hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans toiling night and day right now motivated by the very hope that this Sunday will signal a new beginning for us all. I am giving MUD leadership the benefit of the doubt.

But this I will say: Earlier this year, every party within the MUD signed an agreement which bound them to “activate constitutional mechanisms for political change so that solutions may occur in the first trimester of 2016.”

And after 15 years’ worth of experience as a political opposition, our MUD leadership should be anything but stupid. They know what’s up.

So if our elected representatives, the ones pining for our votes right now, are held to their word, then they, more than anyone, should understand that a simple majority win, far from being a chance to legislate, is the smartest play that Chavismo has to divide and conquer. They must capitalize on this win and channel it towards the right direction. Otherwise, they will, unwittingly or not, play right into the hands of a government desperate for validation.

If, come 2016, our caucus gets caught up in the daily grind of AN procedural bullshit, instead of focusing their game on delegitimizing whatever powers stand in between our electoral victory and regime change, then we will know that they’re happy to be cohabitants, and not promoters of change, like they said they would be.

For now, I choose a self-knowing kind of denial. Journey knows what’s what.

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  1. “those who excel at nothing, except for staying in power.”

    Ain’t that the truth…

    But nice article. Maybe the happiness that winning a simple majority brings, would be over pretty soon.

  2. LBJ on entering a texas teachers college sought and got the job of what we would call the colleges ´conserje’, one year later nothing of importance could be done at that college without LBJ having a hand at it, the post in itself wasn’t important , but in his talented hands it became the primary source of power in that campus !!

    In final terms the simple mayority is some turf that the oppo will now control and which its taken away from the regime , maybe much of the time it wont be able to do all it might want to do with that piece of turf but there will be times when it can become a key player in getting certain things done or advanced , in any event its a gain , its territory gained from the enemy , by itself there are limits to what can be done with it , but given the right conditions it can help advance the cause of regime change in surprising ways……..

    Just the fact that it simbolically represents a mayority of popular support has a political and psychological value of the first order .

    Emilianas warning is pertinent and should be heeded. But we should not be disheartened by her belief that its not going to represent a direct and automatic way of changing the regime , there are lots of thing which holding a mayority in the AN will allow an active and aggressive opposition to do !!

  3. An excellent example of clear-thinking political analysis. Forget about the achievement of a bare simple majority in the AN, that has already been conceded by the Chavista’s in order to maintain the appearance of legitimacy with their so-called election. Concentrate on the breakdown of the popular vote. If it is overwhelmingly against Chavista rule, and that’s a very high probability, demand new Presidential election forthwith. That should be the focal point as to what’s about to take place on Sunday. Maduro forced to resign, and then new elections. That will change everything.

  4. On the other hand, it strikes me that the MUD has more of a plan for a simple majority than for a supermajority. And as for divide-and-conquer, I could see it going the opposite direction: a simple majority could unite the opposition around the current leadership / moderates, while a supermajority could empower those who call for a more … dramatic transition (thereby dividing the MUD). I was actually thinking that simple majority might be the best case scenario for the opposition.

  5. I don’t dispute anything Emiliana says here. The bare simple majority result is the worst scenario for the Opposition. However, due to the massive gerrymandering and unequal representation, even a win with a simple majority of the delegates would represent about two thirds of the popular vote. The CNE will (must!) be forced to acknowledge this. That is a pretty powerful public mandate for change from “el pueblo”. If the new Asamblea is frustrated by oficialismo, the MUD will still have that mandate to wield and an official pulpit from which to communicate.

    I don’t think anyone thinks that this election is the final battle, but it is an important turning point in the war to defeat the thugs.

  6. It also depends on what kind of simple majority. Being closer to 84 will mean that pressure will be on the weakest oppo members for bailing, but being close to a 101 will have the opposite effect.

    Remember that once won, those allegiances are not static. The types of life-saving rafts the MUD throws chavismo can encourage some bailing. Of course, and there will be those that will refuse to throw any, against their own self-interest, IMO.

  7. Sadly, this also applies to them losing 100% of the congress. They do have the capabilities to simply ignore whatever the congress is saying- Paralel goverment style. They get all the legitimacy they want and the MUD still wont be able to do shit. We are talking about narco lords here, voting has always been a formality, in hopes “someone” ( like the militaries or the barrios) do something afterwards.

  8. Precisely. Been saying pretty much the same for months. 45/55%. Or so. It’s gonna be a MUD fest. Cabello and Rodriguez y la pandilla love it.

    Then they will bribe and/or intimidate the new, flashing, hungry MUD “diputados”.

    Then they will blame every single cola, or murder, on the “Derecha burguesa imperialista que controla el Parlamento”. Chavistas are not as “incomptetent” as they seem. These are accomplished crooks and proficient deceivers. “Blame it all on Uribe, oops, la derecha capitalista que controla el parlamento..”

    It will be fun to watch until more people begin to wake up and smell the coffee (from Nicaragua)

  9. I have to agree with Dorothy.

    Emiliana, though one of my favourite writers, like it or not, has a radical position. If there is any lesson we have learned in these last 16 years, it is that chavismo represents an actual political will, and not just a criminal empire. To want to simply change the regime, without letting chavistas have a say, is folly, can only lead to violence and turmoil.

    I am reminded of that joke from that movie Colors:

    A bull and his father are on a hill. Kid bull says “hey dad, let’s run down there and fuck one of those cows!” Father bull says “no son, let’s WALK down there and fuck ALL of them.”

    Let’s walk into power and effect REAL, LASTING change instead of barging into power and effect a continuation of this damn polarization that we are, most of us, so damn tired of.

  10. This post from Emiliana should be re-read by the 30 Millones y Millonas of Venezolanos, plus the international community every day, before breakfast, until December 2016. Or when the shit finally hits the fan, whatever comes first.

  11. Extremely well-written post, passionless analysis, puts fear in my heart. Is there no end to the regime’s capacity for spinning ? As cats do, will they always manage to fall in their four feet? Everything Emiliana says is eminently possible, even probable.
    Other superb analysts, like Moises Naim, share this scenario. The thing is: what do we do, then? Are we doomed to keep dominated by this regime due to the under the table dealings between the government and the MUD Emiliana suggests are going on?
    I have no great expectations from the opposition new members of the National Assembly. The performance of the opposition in the Assembly, so far, has been way short of stellar, with very few exceptions.
    I think it would be the turn of the Nation to stand up. If this legislative victory is diluted by maneuvers by the regime, we have to take decisive action as a Nation. We have to bring up again, this time with more force, the salida, now with a vigorous international support. I, for one, would favor open rebellion.
    I see Cabello/ Maduro as Venezuelan Manuel Noriegas. With the help of the international community we can get rid of this gang of criminals. I never believed the story about the Venezuelan problem having to be to be solved only by Venezuelans. We need the support of the international community and now this support is showing. What we need now is the action from Venezuelans.
    It will be either civic action or servitude forever under a bunch of narcos and thieves. Take your pick.

    • “I, for one, would favor open rebellion.”

      Sr. Colonel, I suspect that this on many minds, and it may well come that. However, it is impolitic and inappropriate to voice this in advance of the election.

    • Gustavo,

      I agree with you the opposition’s work has been less than stellar. Now, I was thinking: what if we write to them? If you have some suggestions, write me or write here and we prepare a post in Spanish. A couple of oppo deputies follow me on Twitter and I know for a fact they follow me because they actually have written to me via email and on a couple of occasions provided some concrete information.

      I think we all can help.

      • About three years ago I had a lively exchange with MUD through a very valuable member and they were very polite but never adopted anyone of my recommendations. I finally gave up. I believe that we need a National front, much wider and deeper than MUD, includoing all democratic actors of civil society and that this front should use all available tools, including a national strike, to press the regime out. The alternative is death by the thousand cuts.

  12. It appears that some of us have a better chance at making repeated appearances in this blog than others, I hope this message has some chance of getting posted , Im genuinely curious about something and would appreciate an answer . Assumming there are contacts and exchanges between people in the oppo and people in the regime and that the regime holds all the cards even if a simple mayority is obtained by the oppo , whats there to bargain on the side of the oppo ?? Their candidates will get elected if they do because of the numbers which the polls show , not because the regime is giving them a seat , so that what can the regime need from the oppo and what can the oppo need from the regime that explain such exchanges!!

    Right now I have no clear understanding of what makes such exchanges or presumed discussions worthwhile for either side unless the conditions are different from what they are now !!

    • Bill,

      If you take as axiomatic that “Politics is an extension of war by peaceful means.”, you should consider that diplomatic contacts and exchanges continue even between warring parties. These contacts are used to gain information about what the other party is thinking and planning. Obviously, such contacts between mistrusting parties are fraught with deception and misdirection. Nevertheless, you can be certain that such contacts are ongoing.

    • The list is long. My guess is that if they negotiate, the government will offer to free Leopoldo, Ledezma, and other political prisoners. Any deal that doesn’t include this would be a non-starter with the oppo. Yes, with a simple majority the oppo can approve an Amnesty Law, but the government can use the TSJ to invent an excuse and refuse to set them free. So even with an Amnesty Law, the oppo needs the government to agree to their release. Another guess is that the oppo would also ask for Leopoldo, MCM, to have their political bans lifted so they can run for any office. The oppo could also ask for the return of all powers to the Alcaldía Mayor, and the closure of the agencies invented to ignore election results, such as Corpomiranda and Jefe de Gobierno del Distrito Capital. The oppo would also demand some real measures on the crime and colectivos issue.

      The government can in turn ask for some political support in dealing with the economic crisis. They might ask for the AN to approve some unpopular but necessary economic reforms. Another issue is the foreign debt. To avoid a default, they might need to restructure or refinance soon. They might be able to obtain better prices for the Venezuelan debt (and better restructuring terms) in international markets if both political sides are united on this issue. The government will undoubtedly ask the oppo to stop bashing them in the international sphere, and to stop calling them a dictatorship or autocrats abroad. Of course, the oppo can’t stop the US from indicting government officials, but they’ll ask for some kind of public support on this, something along the lines of “We reject all foreign meddling in Venezuelan issues”.

      I don’t think either side will rush to negotiate. But if they do want to sit down, there’s plenty of things to ask for, for both.

        • Wholly concur with HalfEmpty about the excellence of PR´s comments . But then of course such negotiations would not merely seek to benefit some paroquial interests inside the MUD but the oppo cause in general which would be acceptable …..!! There would be nothing sinister untoward or crooked about such negotiations , which is kind of the way some people appear to see it within the blog.!!

      • I actually would be disappointed at such negotiations. Bill posted a comment not too long ago where he separated politics into three stratums: The mundane (it’s the economy, stupid!), The narrative (NOJODAAAA!), and The institutions (if it works, it’s because the infrastructure makes it work). Many liberties taken in interpreting his comment.

        All of these spheres have to be adressed according to their own logics for stability to ensue from any changes. Political prisoners, name calling and even open alliance would be narrative shifts, and since no political will exists for reconciliation outside of the NiNiNis, it would be a betrayal all around for any party to concede here. It would negate the outcome of the result, and as Bill called this sphere the colliseum, only outright conquest over enemies will sufice, which doesn’t exclude the victorious party from changing its stance and adopting some of the vanquished’s positions, but it has to be POST-victory. Honestly, I see the best case scenario, the most productive one filled with useful pressures, as one where no party is able to overcome.

        On the mundane side, we can see some work done. But it would have to take place as a struggle between parties, a grudging agreement, in order for our collective political psyche to remain sane.

        On the institutional side, it would have to happen as a result of savvy political operators navigating the other spheres, below the radar, who could trick all parties involved into positions where they are left with unavoidable imperatives both from the mundane and narrative spheres to respect their stability. This will be the heart of the negotiations, really, and where most previous thinking needs to happen, most care taken. Whatever results will be the only real legacy, the only one that matters, from this political age.

        • Actually your interpretation of politics as comprised of three spheres is more sophisticated than what I proposed in prior comments which saw politics as dwelling in three different spaces .

          1. The Temple which includes the worship of certain pure or sacred ideals , which being abstract can translate into a broad range of dissimilar practical decisions at a concrete governance level !! e.g. Personal Liberty , Social Justice , National Sovereignty , Democracy etc. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it people have a hankering for the ‘spiritually superlative and magnificent’ so they create religious and political cults which gratify this desire to emotionally bond with great abstract ideals they can worship and feel grand about !! , there is no negotiating these grand pure abstract ideals !!

          2. The Circus or Colliseum where people take up collective political or ideological identities which adopt epic or melodramatic narratives which justify their engaging in exciting and glamorous confrontations agaisnt an often satanized enemy, where they take a righteus belligerent role which romanticizes and glamorizes their collective ego . Its politics as a kind of blood sport where war is made using means which are not necessarily violent but which mimic violence and the use of coercion and force . There is again a hankering in people to inflame their ego by playing gladiatorial games against a hated and scorned enemy.
          This is the preferred abode of Chavismo , where they feel emotionally most realized and comfortable , engaging in life and death struggles where there can be no truce or compromise only an heroic war to the death. Again this kind of politics is not conducive to negotiations .

          3. Ultimately however there is a need in societies to find ways to make decisions about issues that divide people but which affect all of its members without having to engage in destructive wars of violence, this calls on people with different interests and views to engage in barter and compromise to reach decisions where conflict is ultimately averted and the common good served ….The Politics that concerns itself with this task occupies a place we can call The Market , where political agents meet to negotiate bargain and barter to reach consensus decisions all different interests and views can live with . This is the political space where things are accomplished , where negotiations ocurr which are the life blood of politics .Where the object of politics which is the making of collective decision in a way that allows different views to find accomodation without destroying each other is accomplished .

          Chavez and those sharing his political ethos ( which is that of fascism and a thuggish taste for abusive violence and force) have always derided and loathed this latter form of politics , however this is the essence of democratic politics , compromise , bargain and discussion , We can best understand this kind of politics by reading the thoughts of Hanna Harendt on the subject.

          The preface of JFK’s book Profile in Courage describes how difficult and challenging it is for active political agents to rise beyond politics as a religion or pure ideals and away from a politics of highly histrionized confrontation into one of bargain mutual concessions and compromise for the good of the country in which they live.

          Quite separate is the subject that for good decisions to be taken it is indispensable that we understand that good governance which is the ultimate goal of politics demands more than the use of clean democratic processes to appoint noble and ideologically impolute pols to positions of power , that there is a component to good governance that has more to do with issues of functional competence and efficiency than with ideological or moral character issues , and which people dont pay enought attention to .!! By way of illustration a well run ship needs a good captain but it also needs a team of competent mariners who are efficencient and experienced at the various tasks that operating a ship involves …….if the latter are lacking then the great captain will be incapable of running his ship as it should …

  13. I think Francisco Toro is right. We will have a Ceaușescu style power vacuum, or maybe, in a Fujimori style, he will fax his resignation from, say, Varadero.

    Even if they don’t get the huge representation in congress the thumping will devastating to the credibility of the government. Additionally, Chavistas are pissed at Maduro for frittering the ‘legacy of Chavez’, just read Aporrea, they are not mincing words today. The 57% Chavista suckers are lost to Maduro.

    He is then left with a collapsing economy which will only get worse if he does nothing or will upset EVERYONE if he takes some of the painful but necessary measures.

    He has no space to maneuver, politically he is dead-man-walking

    • Actually, there is another pressure point on Maduro is the Narco-Generals and other lacras.

      If they ease Maduro out, they can negotiate an amnesty and retire with their ill gotten riches in Venezuela, of course with a lot of bodyguards. Otherwise, quoting Ruben Bladen in Tiburon:

      El peje guerrero va pasando
      Recorriendo el reino que domina
      Pobre del que caiga prisionero

      Hoy no habrб perdуn para su vida
      Es el tiburуn que va buscando
      Es el tiburуn que nunca duerme
      Es el tiburуn que va asechando

      • The continent’s drugs power base is not in Venezuela. It is in Colombia.
        This upcoming election threatens that source of core drug cartels, not the pimp type cartels of the Flores and cabellos.
        Destabilising or diminishing the powers of the present regime may have a significant impact on the drugs world “premier” cartels. Maduro and co. are well aware that you cannot turn your back and walk away, particularly when you have been overly rewarded. I suspect Colombia’s psychopaths would feel a bit pissed off to be left in the lurch.

    • “He is then left with a collapsing economy which will only get worse if he does nothing or will upset EVERYONE if he takes some of the painful but necessary measures.

      He has no space to maneuver, politically he is dead-man-walking”

      Two sentences which comprehensively describes what Maduro is now facing. Oh my, …well done!

    • In months? That’s why Klepler came after Copernicus and before Galileo. And yes, for a change, that a straight-forward ad hominem for you, just for kicks and fun, dude.

      I reiterate that this post from Emiliana is backed up by too many facts and historical data, plus smart, original, individual observations from an educated, rebellious individual.

      Problem is Venezuela has very few people left of this caliber of clear understanding, education, smarts, and no bullshit approach. To be nice, I’ll leave it that, regarding the rest of the Chavista population. Millions. What can you say about them?

      • Qué acomplejado! Madura, carajito. Un apodo no es el personaje real.
        Estamos hartos de que solo vengas a este sitio para criticar a los venezolanos por su educación. No pareces tener mucha tú tampoco. Eres repetitivo hasta la náusea.
        Vez tras vez escribes aquí para insultar a los venezolanos por su nivel educativo. Supongo que tus padres te humillaron un montón para que creas que ese tipo de mensaje sirve de algo.

  14. This reminds me of the pre Maduro vs Capriles days, when many said “well, even if Capriles wins he won’t be able to do anything”.
    It is much better to control one power than to control none, plus when the tide starts to change, you don’t know who might end up on your side.
    And, in my view, not any negotiation has to be a dark “cogollo” thing. If fearful chavistas start calling, you are not going to pick up??

  15. Outstanding Article. It is true that seems kind of radical but quite possible and is an scenario that at least myself never thought about.

  16. Gracias Emiliana por traer algo de realismo al moj…. Mental que algunos tiene acerca de nuestro mundo político. Aqui ya se deben de haber sentado a negociar los resultados sin importar cuales sean los verdaderos a boca de urna. La votación importa pero como un tira y encoge que ofrece cierto apalancamiento a la hora del té.
    Como dije en un post pasado, pongan un ojo muy cercano a lo que Ramos Allup y Cabello digan y hagan. Shannon los debe de estar vigilando.

    Una cosa sí es seguro: el plátanote está frito

  17. Bravo, Emiliana! I’ve been enjoying your reading, and in-article linking, for a while now. I am guessing that in order to not have your article turn somber you skipped out commenting on whether or not a ‘lame duck’ AN would re-instate the simple majority’s original definition, and thus striping a single majority MUD AN of those higher powers if not even more?

  18. 2016 is THE year. Any politician thinking that he can negotiate for the regime to stay in power longer than 2016 is a politician that will remain in the opposition in 2017, but to a different government.

  19. I have a friend who’s father is the Senior Senator of a New England (USA) state, who is also keen on Venezuela politics because – strange as it seems – he was played baseball in Ven when he was an aspiring ball player (who later washed out and went back to school). He said that all the jockying around for control or this and that and the negotiations and dealings that will go on and on all boil down to two things: Who controls the money (at this point the hard currency earned from oil exports), and who oversees the accounting. And what is the process by which even a super majority can gain control over these two key things, around which orbit all the other factors.

    In principal, a supermajority would gain control of them both because extant ministers and departments would have to be accountable to the super majority. The problem, said the senator, is that Maduro and company will fight to hang onto the purse strings, and the opposition will at the outset have little way to enforce what is there legal right. This is the point when things could start to get ugly, to say nothing of the tricky transition to economic reforms etc. that is the only way out of this quagmire. Toro’s point that the Chavistas will sooner than later implode is well taken, but not till the opposition has actual physical control of the economy, or what;s left of it, can any systemic change start to happen.

    There is certainly a power struggle in the offing, but ultimately a true power shift cannot occur till the opposition is literally running the country, starting with the economy, and with Chavistas holding down all the key spots, it might take a long and exhausting process to right the ship and get hold of the helm, or as has been said, the whole tottering scrapheap of Chavismo will fall of a sudden. Either way, the next few weeks are sure to be an adventure. And at this point, largely unpredictable.


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