Venezuelans are spending a non-alcoholic Valentine’s day (as required by the electoral law) prior to tomorrows wholly illegal referendum to amend the Venezuelan Constitution, so that Chavez can run for President again in 2012. (And again and again!)
Illegal for too many reasons. From the fact that this was already voted on (Is he a democrat when he does not abide by the voter’s desires?), that a referendum can not take place until after two years after the last one (which was on Dec. 2nd. 2007), or because the question is worded in such a fashion that it deceives voters and finally, because the whole State and its money has been manipulated to promote Chavez’ SI vote.
But Chavez’ revolution is showing increasing signs that it has by now lost all of its scruples, as it lies, intimidates and even twist facts to fit Chavez’ views and needs.
The Government has carried out an overwhelming campaign on all fronts, outspending the opposition by a factor of 7 to 8 (even on the Internet!), using all of the Government’s resources and yes, intimidating and lying to the people about the meaning of the outcome tomorrow.
To me, the most significant impact of this vote may be that for the last two months, the Venezuelan Government has ignored the crisis that is about to hit us in the face, devoting itself completely to the promotion of the Si vote to perpetuate Chavez in power. Because not only have no decisions been made, but the last two months have been spent insuring that the voters don’t feel any sign of the crisis.
But in the end tomorrow’s outcome may not be that relevant anyway. If oil prices continue at current levels and Chavez continues managing the economy with amateurs, his popularity may drop to such low levels that 2012 may seem far away even to the autocrat himself when things get really bad and much higher inflation and shortages hit the people. And no matter which side wins, Chavez’ international reputation, or what was left of it, has been further damaged by his obsessive abuse of power and his undemocratic ways. Today’s New York Times Editorial is a clear sign that Chavez can no longer fool people into thinking he is a democrat or is even trying to do the best for the people. How times change! And how Daniel says, I certainly feel bloggers have contributed to changing international minds and beating Chavez’ huge resources on international lobbying just with our time and dedication.
And we are now here, ready to vote and sober, and I am sure you all want me to say what I think may happen.
Polls have been rather confusing in the last two months. As Chavez proposed the referendum, all major and reliable pollsters indicated the NO was way ahead. However, withing four weeks and without anything major happening, the SI had recovered significantly, closing the gap in most polls. This has been due mostly the the intense pro-SI campaign by the Government and its focus on the undecided, painting the race between Chavez and a faceless opposition that is about to take everything away from them.
At that point, after the gap narrowed, pollsters that have been rather consistent in prior elections, began to diverge. As of today, of what I consider to be the reliable pollsters, there are differences of as much as 12 percentage points in their final predictions.
Pollsters themselves indicate that there are some strange things in the data. All of them register levels of commitment by the voters that have never been seen in any Venezuelan election and least of all on a referendum, which typically turn off the voters on both sides. Running at 15% on average, abstention may be the key into understanding the final result.
Because in the end, it was Chavista abstention that gave the opposition its victory in the 2007 Constitutional referendum, as three million voters that had cast their ballot for the President in 2006, decided to stay home. The intense campaign of the last two months and the organization of tomorrow’s vote is all focused in guaranteeing that this may not happen again.
Opposition optimists want to interpret the differences in the polls on fear, but pollsters think that this fear may be reflected in who is going to vote rather than how they will vote.
And the Government has loaded the dice to insure abstention is as low as possible. Despite the fact that the law says that voting should end at 4 PM if nobody is in line, the CNE unilaterally decided to bypass it, changing it to 6 PM. This guarantees that if exit polls indicate the pro-Si vote is on the low side of things, the Chavista machinery can go and get the voters at their homes and bring them in.
Up to about ten days ago, I was thinking that the No would win, believing that the violence and intimidation would work against Chavez in the last few days. But after seeing the internal numbers of some of the polls, I have changed my mind. In 2007, Chavez approval rating was down, it is up between 8 to 10 points from that level among voters, even if they say they will vote No tomorrow. That number, combined with the resources of the Government and my belief that there is no major “hidden” or “fear” vote lead me to conclude that the Si is going to win. Only huge abstention levels or Chavismo blowing the drive to get voters out (like it blew the Si march on Thursday) could turn the tide against Chavez.
Sorry to rain on your parade, that’s the way I see it, even if my “feelings” tell me otherwise.
I will, of course, be reporting during the day, will make my usual spin through the city as soon as I finish voting. I will visit the same centers I did in 2006, 2007 and 2008 which will give us some sense of abstention levels to see if I blew my prediction (Hope I did!). I do hope that lines will be smaller than in the regional elections when it took me all day to take my mother to vote and return for my own. I will update both blogs, but the new version (wordpress) appears much faster than the old version (Radio Userland or Salon.com).
But in the end, this all may be a waste of time even for Chavez. If running the country absorbed his time and effort like elections and referenda do, maybe he will actually have some more accomplishments to show in the last ten years and would not even have to waste so much money and effort on promoting his indefinite reelection.