Photo: javierbertucci.org

The employee at the university’s cafeteria was the first; he’s a recently converted evangelical who dedicates as much time as he can to the Bible. He’s hard-working, punctual and courteous with professors, sometimes exchanging a few words with them, such as “it’s hot,” “everything’s expensive,” things like that. The other day, while waiting for our coffee, a colleague of mine asked him, half joking and half serious, if he’ll vote for Bertucci. The employee stared, as if extracting from the professor’s face the most convenient reply. “I’m thinking about it,” he finally said and jumped to another subject, leaving his interlocutors (who disregarded the vote for the pastor-candidate) a bit shaken.

That same day I went for lunch with a friend. The man who invited me was a regular of the place, already friendly with the waiters. When he asked our waiter how he was, the answers were the usual complaints of every Venezuelan, but since waiters in Venezuela always ask back, he also inquired: “And what do you think, sir? Should we vote?”

My friend told him he won’t, but the waiter seemed unsatisfied. “Rumor has it that Falcón and Bertucci will join forces, maybe…”

And he left the subject in the air, taking our order to the kitchen.

The following day, my housekeeper also complained about how bad things are, telling me she’s too old to return to Colombia and her two daughters will vote for Bertucci. “What do you think?” she asked.

This time it’s me who stares at her, telling her that I’m not particularly convinced by that candidate, but he’s got his people. As I understand, the lady will vote for Falcón, but perhaps her daughters will persuade her.

Everything I’ve seen or heard tells me that Bertucci grows in popularity, that he’s already broken the 10% barrier and that he’d make up for a winning formula.

The fact that I heard from four different people that they’ll vote for Bertucci in two days tells me something’s happening. I know the statistical sample is negligible and after commenting it on a couple WhatsApp groups, I’m met with incredulity, displicence or anger. How can people believe in Bertucci? How can they support these elections?

Truth is that even in academic, journalistic and business circles, many have told me they’ll vote, in a kind of “Trump syndrome” (they vote, but don’t say), supported by a few reasons: first, the experience shows that abstaining leads nowhere; second, they don’t believe in MUD; third, between the uncertainty of what the international community could do and the likelihood of a Falcón victory, they go for the safest option.

With this in mind, I start seeing it on studies with a greater statistical solvency than my loose conversations: the willingness to vote has extended and it might reach half of the electorate. If that’s the case, it would be yet another failure for MUD and a success for Maduro, who could tell the world that, despite general perceptions, Venezuelans do believe in the electoral system. Everything I’ve seen or heard, on the other hand, tells me that Bertucci grows in popularity, that he’s already broken the 10% barrier and that, at the moment and together with Falcón, he’d make up for a winning formula. If everyone votes, Maduro, with an 80% disapproval, won’t stand a chance, but if abstention is too high, that 20% he has, well organized, supported by the State, sometimes deeply ideological and sometimes co-opted by public offices, the carnet de la patria and other mechanisms, can give him an easy win, even without fraud. In fact, with the current predictions on abstention, that 20% could give him about 40% of the votes. The matter resides on whether we believe in the electoral system or not, and 50% of Venezuelans think the CNE won’t care what they do.

The leadership void left by Maduro and MUD opens a fertile ground for a new candidate, especially if he knows how to talk, has economic resources, access to the radio and television, and the potential support of one of the most dynamic movements in Venezuela, the evangelicals. It’s a phenomenon that’s becoming more common in Latin America and, although it hasn’t overcome the semi-finals in any election, it’s a matter of time. We’re a society of sheep seeking a shepherd. Just like so many go to the churches looking for a solution to their problems, now they want pastors to fix society. The first miracle is on the horizon, at least: if polls are true and if everything is conducted in a relatively clean fashion, if Maduro wins, it would be with the largest minority and only because there’s no second round. The other two minorities stand between Falcón and Bertucci. Both profit in their own way, because they’d become a reference, they’d have some real power and perhaps they’d become the opposition that can negotiate with Maduro, if he so chooses, pushing MUD aside.

Many voters hope for this in hushed voices, although they’d rather not admit it.

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