2015: If only Elections Mattered After Voting is over...

On the 6th of December 2015, our political opposition proved they know how to win an election, by rallying around a common purpose. Then there's the bitter aftermath of a perfect campaign.

The last time I celebrated in the middle of a Caracas street was in the early morning hours of December 7, 2015. Amidst friends and strangers, the night brought an end to a colossal effort we’d started early in the year. We were enjoying the results of what we thought impossible, our first win in eight years.

When 2015 began, we knew that parliamentary elections were coming, but when and how they would happen was still a mystery. Rumor had it that the government wouldn’t hold elections because they knew they’d lose, and the CNE remained silent.

The unprecedented victory was possible thanks to a team of over 125 thousand Venezuelans that committed to a full-time effort from August to December, with tasks and responsibilities distributed according to their individual skills and talents: volunteers, mobilizers, organizers, technicians, candidates, all of them training hard for months, and working towards the same goal and with a single, clear message. In practice, we had two campaign strategists: the unofficial (and most successful) one was Nicolás Maduro, whose administration caused general malaise among citizens. The official chief was MUD’s executive secretary, who handled his obligations with a low profile and wisdom, knowing what was coming but keeping his cards close to the chest. Nominal candidates focused on getting the votes through direct contact with voters, without a protagonist for the campaign. A machine operating at full efficiency, overcoming the myriad of obstacles the CNE threw our way.

Manipulating the electoral timetable is a tradition of the Revolution. In 2003, for the Recall Referendum, the signatures were collected during the last few weeks of the oil strike and the CNE postponed the process from June 2003, to July 2004. In 2008, regional and municipal elections were held early, on November 23. In 2010, parliamentary elections took place on September 28 for a legislative period that began on January 2011 and, in 2012, presidential elections were moved forward to October 7, obviously due to their candidate’s health. Regional elections in 2016 were postponed for almost a year, while municipal elections were rushed and convened in record time for December 2017.

Nominal candidates focused on getting the votes with direct contact with voters, without a protagonist for the campaign. A machine working at full efficiency.

In 2015, we already knew that we had a broad range of scenarios and the best strategy was an early move to set the beat with a new Legislative Branch. A photograph of a united opposition was taken in El Morro of Petare on January 23, an acknowledgement that despite differences, there should be a common strategy.

By late February, the candidacies of party heads were guaranteed: Henry Ramos Allup for opposition circuit 3 in the Capital District; Julio Borges leading the list in Miranda State; the leadership of Un Nuevo Tiempo heading the roster in Zulia and the most important circuits in that state. Primaries were held in disputed circuits. And early on, we had some surprises too, when the CNE released the composition of electoral circuits, gerrymandered in favor of PSUV.

Along the way, PSUV also included new rules of the game. In July, the government party imposed that at least 40% of candidates had to be women, and the Comptroller’s Office had disqualified incumbent María Corina Machado from running halfway through the year. The TSJ would end up intervening COPEI with an ad-hoc board, while the rest of the opposition closed the month united and ready, thanks to an internal agreement to preserve the potential victory. The goal was avoiding the 2010 scenario, when the opposition won the majority of votes, but still didn’t get a proportionate number of seats. A MUD team created the campaign Venezuela Unida and the rules for the future parliamentary majority were established.

I’ve been actively participating in every electoral processes since 2004. I’ve mobilized voters, I’ve defended votes, collected witnesses’ reports and even handed out flyers – the best one was from 2008, showing a bald Francisco de Miranda; it said “Miranda sin Cabello”. And it was during the 2015 campaign that I first witnessed first-hand the unified strategy and broad diversity of the Venezuelan opposition. Although it is true that some backroom decisions were made on the spot —the so-called “Huevo frito” pact took hold (agreements between AD and PJ) to broker power once legislators took office.

I even handed out flyers – the best one was from 2008, showing a bald Francisco de Miranda; it said “Miranda sin Cabello”.

The rest is history. 7,728,025 voters gave MUD’s ballot the most unprecedented support in the history of Venezuela. A video from Altamira Village with Lilian Tintori telling her “niñitas” that we’d won went viral. I danced in the middle of the normally dangerous Caracas streets, early that Monday. Two thirds of the Chamber that would start legislating in January gave the opposition a qualified majority.

Many elected officials started thinking of their own futures, and forgot about MUD.

The opposition’s relationship to voting has been a long and complex one. Today, the fragility of our faith in the electoral system is on full display. And certainly, the game has changed. But the 2015 win wasn’t a miracle, it was grounded on certain conclusions that I believe still hold true:

The CNE, the government and the PSUV have always been the same thing. They work and will continue to work together. They perfect their techniques from process to process, and in order to win an election, we have to know how to beat all three of them at once. The only two times that this unique entity was defeated through the ballot has involved true unity. December 2, 2007, the Constitutional Reform Referendum, and December 6, 2015 were championed by an active opposition, connected with its citizenry, synchronized around a common goal.

After 6D Parliamentary elections, I’ve only seen that kind of unity twice: during the signature collection process for the Recall Referendum—I’ve long thought that the government decided to suspend it precisely because of that atmosphere within the opposition—and in the popular consultation held on 16J 2017, which left a far broader photograph than the one taken in Petare in January of 2015. But that picture was only relevant for that single day. Upon the first sign of victory, it seems as if everyone thinks their individual time has come once more, and they forget about maintaining and strengthening the cohesion until final victory is achieved.

Back in 2007, we were hobbling from long list of electoral defeats behind us and the fight was won by joining forces. The exact same thing happened in 2015. The government didn’t expect any of those defeats, but in baseball, outs can only be made when the other team knows how to play. Whatever the field, though, without a team there can be no victory.

Venezuela Unida was an experience of true unity and, in my opinion, one of the main keys to the 6D victory. A few weeks ago father Luis Ugalde, former UCAB rector, said during an interview with César Miguel Rondón that one of the greatest challenges for the opposition is that true unity will be a requirement for a transition government, and there’s currently no evidence of that in any of the opposition’s experiences in public administration. Not even in the National Assembly we won, installed on January 2016. 

The problem isn’t winning the fight, but keeping the egos in check. I can only speak to how that was accomplished in the electoral arena. As for what comes after… that’s a whole other ball game. 

Gustavo Silva

Gustavo is a Human Resources specialist and a hopeless electoral junkie. He loves El Avila even though he's allergic to capín melao.