A Staggering Defeat

“It’s impossible.”

That, more or less, was the collective reaction of the Venezuelan political class to last night’s gubernatorial elections result. A government profoundly loathed by vast majorities of the population can’t win a decisive win in regional elections. A party led by a president on 22% approval ratings can’t be electorally competitive. It’s preposterous to even begin to think so and the evidence would obviously bear that out.

As night turned into morning, though, the horrifying insight started to congeal. As opposition spokespeople subtly backed away from earlier claims, we began to realize, this wasn’t going to be like July 30th this year, when evidence of fraud began to pile on almost from the moment the polls closed.

This was going to be like April 2013, when the opposition first signalled fraud but then catastrophically failed to come up with the evidence to back that claim.

You can’t explain a variable with a constant. All of the dirty tricks Ocariz decried have been structural features of the Venezuelan Elections System at least since 2012.

At lunch-time today, defeated Primero Justicia candidate for Miranda State Governor, Carlos Ocariz, gave a profoundly sad news conference. He kept repeating that he had all the actas — the voting tallies produced at each voting center — but that “this isn’t a problem of actas.

It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

To draw our attention away from the actas, Ocariz kept pounding away on an electoral system rotten from top to bottom: intimidation, vote buying, violence, coercion, harassment of opposition witnesses, ballot stuffing. All credible, all real, all irrelevant.

Because you can’t explain a variable with a constant. All of the dirty tricks Ocariz decried have been structural features of the Venezuelan Elections System at least since 2012. On the margins, they’ve been good enough to turn a narrow MUD polling lead into a narrow PSUV win.

They’ve never taken an election MUD was winning by 25 points and turned it into one it lost by eight. Something else is clearly at play here.

It may be that there was more ballot-stuffing this time than in the past. If there was, forensic analysis of the results data will surely find it, and we’ll certainly write about it in some detail. But I’ll be very surprised if it turns out the bulk of MUD’s underperformance is accounted for by ballot stuffing.

Occam’s razor is pointing in just one direction: MUD voters didn’t turn out. And so we lost.

I think what happened is actually simpler.

We lost, because we didn’t turn out.

And we didn’t turn out for lots of reasons. We didn’t turn out because we didn’t see how state governorships were relevant to the problems facing the country. We didn’t turn out because we sensed the desperation in our candidates’ pitches, and the condescension in their slogans. We didn’t turn out because we stopped trusting a political leadership that’s out of touch, self-serving and more interested in its own power than in helping us. We didn’t turn out because we’ve left the country. We didn’t turn out because if we’re going to take big time risks to vote we want it to be for something we genuinely believe in, and this wasn’t it.

Shocking as the results were, impossible though they seemed, Occam’s razor is pointing in just one direction: MUD voters didn’t turn out. And so we lost.

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