Hoping for the best, while worrying about the worst

November 28, 2006


You have
to wonder, and worry, about a Government that blocks the entrances to the city so that people can not attend the opposition rally and the next
day it goes as far as letting highways have no tolls for the first time in decades in order to boost attendance
at their own rallies. Or today, it even tries to block the opposition candidate from getting to his rally. In the end, these are the irrelevant details that make no
difference and mean little one way or the other. But while I wish for a clean process, I worry about the dirty tricks.

Indeed, one
does have to worry about the continued manipulation of the electoral process by
the electoral authorities. And there are daily events to worry about, which make it a fairly unfair
process. Not only does the Electoral Board (CNE) allow Chavez to outspend
Rosales by a 12 to 1 ratio without saying much, but today we learn
about
how public employees are being pressured and manipulated into going
to rallies and voting for Chavez. The immoral revolution does not have any
scruples. And I am starting to get increasingly concerned by their signaling. Even if I I am hoping for the best. The best for democracy. Nothing will be gained by either candidate winning under questionable circumstances.

As I have
said before, there are to me certain key factors that would make Sunday’s
electoral process clean, transparent and believable. Among them, there are two steps that
are simply crucial: Not connecting the voting machines until after they have printed the “original” tally and carrying out the
audit in a clean way, witnessed by anyone that wants to and, more importantly,
having access to the information of the audit that same night and not six weeks
later like it happened in the National
Assembly elections last year
.

Well, by a
slight and just coincidental “mistake” the printed instructions being handed
out by the CNE to all witnesses and members of the polling stations and tables,
happen to inadvertently state that the connection to the CNE system is made before
and not after the original tally is made. In fact, many witnesses
report that this is precisely the way they are being trained. Rosales’ people
have complained and the CNE has now made up some huge posters that will be at
each voting center, but you have to wonder about this error and whether the posters will be displayed in such a way as to avoid confusion and conflicts.

The second
problem has to do with the audits. There is a procedure for the audits and not
only should the witnesses at the voting tables be present, but everyone should be
able to attend the audit (The law clearly states the tally and audit are public). In the 2004 recall vote,
soldiers with machine guns drove away the public (including me!) in clear violation of the law.
Will it happen this Sunday? Well, none other than the President of the CNE
is making the “strange” suggestion
that people should stay home and abide
by the recent decree by the Ministry of the Interior prohibiting gatherings and
meetings on Dec. 3d. She is telling people to vote and then go home to await
the official announcements, conveniently “forgetting” about the audits. The
President of the Electoral Board is once again doing exactly the opposite of
what her mandate is, she is asking people to stay home and wait for the
results, rather than make the voting process as transparent as possible. But,
what else is new?

Similarly,
the Government has
asked to exclude
a delegation of Spanish observers, from that country’s
Parliament (both parties). Weird how you want to exclude bipartisan observers
from a country with which Venezuela
enjoys excellent diplomatic relationships. Of course, one Spanish Deputy from
the Communist party, who refused to sign the very critical observation report
last December, is not being excluded and is being invited. What do they call
this: Selective choosing of partial observers that will look the other way? Or
simply loading the die.

And then we
hear
the well balanced and “fair” statement by the Foreign Minister that it
is “simply lunatic to think that the opposition will become Government”. Well
hopefully he did not mean what some may think he meant and he just misspoke,
but he seems to be implying that some higher being may have to intervene in
order to stop the opposition from becoming Government. And we know who is the “highest
being” in this game.

And then
you have to wonder how the international media seems to pick up on the Evans-Zogby-Universidad Complutense-psos polls of this world. They pick up on them
and repeat them to death, turning their questionable data into the apparent truth. In a country well known for being quite problematic for a
new pollster, it seems that is all we can hear: the weird polls by unknown
pollsters which, coincidentally, have been paid by the revolution. Meanwhile, even
well known US pollsters, together with well known Venezuelan ones, most of which
with ample experience in Venezuela, are being ignored by the media, in another strange
feature of the upcoming election.

But the
real poll is Sunday and I wonder if any of the famous or unknown pollsters are
asking themselves the question I remind people of: Fear maybe a factor, but the
unknown factor in Venezuela
is and has always been abstention. No known or unknown pollster has ever, I
repeat, ever, been able to get a handle on that variable. Venezuelans are
ashamed of saying they are not going to vote. It is easier to say you are
pro-Rosales or pro-Chavez or even pro-Conde, than to say you are not voting. Thus, Venezuelan
polls always come on the side of significantly underestimating abstention.

Thus, I
contend that the most important factor in this election will not be fear, the
fear of being found out on your Presidential preference, but what I call the asymmetry
of the abstention” That abstention will be different on both sides.That is what I believe we have seen in the rallies for each of
the candidates. There can’t be any other explanation. The Nation may be evenly divided, but the Chavistas are tired
militants, as unlikely to go to the rally as they are to go and vote on Sunday.
Meanwhile, one of Rosales’ top achievements has been to mobilize the opposition again.
I think this will translate into a very significant factor as, even if Chavez
has a majority, he could lose because of abstention. People forget abstention
was 33% when Chavez was first elected in 1998 at the height of his popularity, or 43.7% when Chavez was
reelected under the new Constitution in 2000 or even that abstention was 30% in
the recall referendum of 2004. In ALL these cases, predicted abstentions by experienced
pollsters were in the 12%-27% range. Pollsters are suggesting simlar numbers for next Sunday.

Anyone
that thinks that these numbers will be improved is misjudging the emotional state
of the electorate. In 1998 and 2000, Chavez was at the height of his popularity
and even in the recall vote of 2004, there was an intensity to his rallies that
is absent today. None of the pollsters in 1998, 2000 and 2004 saw such large
levels of abstention. None are seeing it today. But if I had to make an
educated guess, I would guess that abstention will be like that of 2000, near
the 45% level. One should never make bets on non-trivial issues, but there is
one that I would be willing to make.

Thus, the
implication is that if the streets and the rallies are simply an indication of
the asymmetry of abstention for between both sides, Chavez has more to worry about than Rosales. The election could be
decided with less than ten million voters casting ballots and large levels of
abstention would seem to hurt Chavez the most.

But the
revolution has been spending money convincing the world that it is a fait accompli, that Chavez has been
reelected. You have to wonder why.

The only
thing one has to ask for at this time, is that the process be clean,
transparent and have no confusing aspects to it. Let the true winner emerge in
clear fashion without mucking up the process. Let democracy, real democracy
carry its course, no tricks, and no hidden agendas. Let’s hope for the best, while worrying about the worst.

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