16J: Putting the Oppo Radical Wing’s Agenda to the Test

When the opposition announced they would hold today’s don’t-call-it-a-plebiscite, the usual suspects in the opposition twittersphere went bezerk. “Why are they asking for our permission to do what we elected them to do?” some screamed, while others claimed it was a delaying tactic from the supposedly boliburgeois-backed moderate wing of MUD, to calm the protests for a couple of weeks and stabilize Maduro’s government.

I know it’s not a great idea to stress out too much about hyperstrident Guerreros de Twitter. But nor are these views entirely negligible — their views clearly resonate with some people.

What’s funny is that, in their strident hyper-vigilance about being sold out to “dialogue”, they get it exactly backwards: today’s vote is a victory for the new Voluntad Popular-Primero Justicia alliance that has been driving the protest agenda since March, with support from smaller parties like Maria Corina Machado’s Vente Venezuela.

For its part, the crew that pushed for dialogue ahead October 2016 —Un Nuevo Tiempo, Avanzada Progresista and Acción Democrática— is quietly sitting back and hoping for the vote to flop. 

Let’s take a step back and look at what’s really at stake here.

The real split between so-called moderates and so-called radicals inside MUD isn’t about whether to negotiate, it’s about what to negotiate. Moderates want concessions from the government —who runs the elections council, the validity of the National Assembly’s opposition majority, freedom for political prisoners, what have you— so cohabitation can be made stable as we wait for presidential elections at the end of 2018. Radicals also want to negotiate — but what they want to negotiate is the terms and conditions for an early transition.

If enough people turn up today, MUD will have a clear mandate to seek a transition in the short-term.

In fact, the initiative was championed by the most radical wing of the opposition: the VP-PJ alliance now pushing for transition. But that’s not what matters: what matters is its effect.

This vote could settle the debate between moderates and radicals, and it’s clear for those without analytical myopia that the vote could push MUD to the protest and civil disobedience agenda, even against the wishes of some rather large political parties.

If you have any doubts, just read Question 3 of the consultation:

¿Do you approve the renewal of the Branches of the State according to what is established in the Constitution, as well as holding elections and the formation of new government of national unity?

This question seeks a mandate for MUD to replace the board of the regime-controlled National Elections Council and Supreme Tribunal. In effect, it calls on the National Assembly to create a new, parallel set of state institutions able to hold credible elections.

It’s the very agenda pushed by the radicals who hate this vote. It’s the route they’ve been calling for since January 2016 and they can’t see it.

I can’t guarantee that MUD will not make the same mistakes of 2016. But if enough people turn up today, the organization will have a clear mandate to seek a transition in the short-term: that’s bad news for players looking for concessions to establish a stable cohabitation with the government.

Furthermore, this exercise is exactly what the government has been trying to avoid since they lost the elections of 2015. Not only did the government kill the recall referendum and delay regional elections: their fear of elections runs so deep that the Supreme Court suspended even the vote for new leaders of the Venezuelan Boxing Federation.

That is not a joke.

If turnout is high today –I’d put a symbolic marker at the 7.5 million Maduro votes of 2013– it will not only force MUD to follow through on the actions they proposed, but it’ll also raise the political cost of engaging in any dialogue along the lines of October 2016, when we settled for tactical concessions and were left hanging when the government failed to deliver them.

It rarely happens in life and history, but we have a real voice and a real vote on the future today. Even if they don’t agree with “plebeian actions”, the best way for critics to push back against “the passive MUD” is to vote. It’s the one thing they can do to make sure MUD becomes what they’ve always wanted. It’s funny how the only obstacle they must overcome is themselves.

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