The Farce and the Fear: How to Mobilize Voters for an Election Nobody Wants

Sunday’s election is a giant charade, so how do you get people to go out and vote? By laying on the intimidation like there’s no tomorrow. Because, if you fail, there may not be.

With 24 hours to go until the biggest election in years, here’s an oddity: the Government doesn’t care who you vote for. Just as long as you vote.

After the opposition’s do-it-yourself election, the bar is high for chavismo to prove they still represent “the majority”. But how do you convince people against their hearts? Proposals from each of the candidates, presented three times a day on national radio and TV cadenas, are more a joke than a real constitutional project.

Chavismo’s done what it can to give Sunday’s election the look-and-feel of a major political event, but they’ve come up short in both substance and style. Superficially, this election is just another rumba chavista. With the catchy song, a dog dancing, and the infamous candidate La Máscara.

“We’re going to knock on the door of anyone who gets confused… Our message is to vote, to consolidate what we have accomplished.”

The farce element runs deep here. In reality  there’s no sense of anticipation at all, all candidates represent the same party. Out of the 537 constituents, perhaps 7 to 10 of them will make decisions: the other fivehundred-some-odd are purely filler, there to raise their hand on command. Which ones get elected matters exclusively to the individuals involved.

Still, you need to get people to vote.

But the real reason to vote has nothing to do with any cute song. It’s fear.

Venezuela has more than two million public sector workers, and each one is well aware that la masa no está pa’ bollos.

The time for subtle coaxing and coded messages is long gone. Chavismo’s get-out-the-vote strategy consists of threatening them mercilessly.

Maduro already said that voters must present their ID and Carnet de la Patria at the door of every voting center, “to see who votes.”  

“If we have 15,000 workers (in a public institution), all 15,000 must vote, no excuse”, PSUV leader Diosdado Cabello said as he explained the way the Carnet de la Patria allows the government to keep track of who’s voted and who hasn’t, in real time.

“We’re going to knock on the door of anyone who gets confused,” Diosdado went on. “Our message is to vote, to consolidate what we have accomplished.”

As for vice-president Tarek El Aissami, he is leveraging the CLAP grocery distribution: “We didn’t let you die. Now it’s your turn to not let the revolution die”.

And that’s a bouquet of subtlety compared to ANC candidate and brother of late President Chávez, Adán Chávez, who said “if we have to take up arms to defend the legacy of Chávez and Maduro, we will”.

The interior Minister, Néstor Reverol, decided that the threats will not be exclusive for chavista voters, assuring that now any meeting or protest that “can affect” the election is prohibited, adding that this “crime” will be be punished with 5 to 10 years in prison.

The economic crisis is part of the campaign. Maduro has assured us that, with the Constituyente, all economic problems will be fixed, even raising the minimum wage weeks before the election.

Some of the threats are startlingly direct…

Money talks, even in voting centers, but governor Vielma Mora took a step forward proposing that any “company or person” who doesn’t vote, shouldn’t participate in the Dicom foreign exchange system. As he sees it, that would be giving dollars “to right wing terrorists.”

It’s legitimately scary when you realize he’s not alone in this line of thought.

These threats have crossed the country and even reached Colombian borders. Roberth Guerra, a leader of Un Nuevo Tiempo in Táchira, denounced that “public workers of the border, dependent of the regional and national government, have told us how the authorities intimidate them they must sign a letter of resignation if they fail to vote, they have been threatened to lose their CLAP bags, and told that pensions for the elderly will be revoked.”

On July 16th, the opposition drew its line in the sand: 7.6 million. The goal for the government is to overcome that mark. With money tight, that won’t be easy. Intimidation is the only card they have left.

Gaby J. Miller

Gaby is a Caraqueña steeped in 90's pop culture who likes to talk and write politics.