50 Ways to Nullify an Election

Time was when chavismo would've known to use the Economic Emergency decree to divide MUD's caucus once again. It seems like that kind of tactical deftness is behind them.

This weekend, the línea handed down through state media was clear enough: the opposition National Assembly can refuse us Emergency Powers all it wants, we’re going ahead anyway. Here’s Diosdado saying “the people” will approve the Emergency Decree on the streets. Here’s Maduro declaring himself officially ‘in rebellion’ over the decree. Here’s Pedro Carreño claiming all they really need to implement it is the Supreme Tribunal’s approval, which they have. Here’s Jorge Rodríguez freelancing himself new constitutional powers to approve the decree. 

You can fault chavismo of a lot of things, but lack of message discipline is not one of them.

It’s a bit disappointing. The whole brouhaha over the Economic Emergency Decree turned out to be just the Nth chavista approach to the thorny problem of nullifying December 6th’s election.

In fact, the whole play was almost infantile in its simplicity:

  1. Unilaterally hand down some crazy ass decree full of measures you know perfectly well can never be acceptable to the new Assembly majority.
  2. Refuse to defend it in public.
  3. Sit tight and wait for the Assembly to, inevitably, vote it down.
  4. Declare the Assembly illegitimate for having voted it down.

Time was when chavismo showed a bit more tactical shrewdness. Back when José Vicente Rangel was running the government’s tactical game, you might have expected a decree carefully balanced between semi-reasonable sounding measures aimed at peeling off the moderate Capriles/H. Falcón wing of the opposition alongside poison pills meant to alienate the more radical wing. Done properly, the Economic Emergency Decree could’ve been turned into a wedge, seeding real discord inside the MUD caucus.

Those days are past, though. Instead, we got an Economic Emergency Decree so plainly over-the-top it brought the MUD caucus together into ever tighter alignment. With zero sugar to make the medicine go down, no sweeteners that might have tempted at least someone in the MUD caucus to take it seriously as something whose passage wasn’t self-evidently insane, the decree produced a lull rather than a flare-up in the never-entirely-overcome radicals vs. moderates war inside MUD.

In other words, chavismo isn’t just making strategic blunders at this point. It’s making tactical mistakes, too.