I have always believed in the concept of primaries. Political parties in Venezuela have been for too long vehicles for the man in charge to promote himself. If there was something that did not work in the Fourth Republic, it was that part of the democratic process. In fact, it was tried a few times, once, with Luis Beltran Prieto in 1968 winning, the result was not liked because Prieto represented the left wing of Accion Democratica. The result was not respected, the party divided and Gonzalo Barrios became AD’s candidate. The second time in 1993, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz surprisingly beat Eduardo Fernandez, who had set up the primary to be anointed, only to see the people reject him. Alvarez Paz thought he was unbeatable, not understanding Fernandez had lost, he had not really won. Because he did not agree with Carlos Andres Perez’ impeachment, Alvarez Paz left the country to rest, he was out of sight and Caldera came back to Venezuela, grabbed the limelight and won the Presidential election against Paz, one of the two politicians he had groomed to succeed him. The other was Fernandez.
After this, the primary process at any political level was seldom used, leading to political parties where all decisions are made at the top,which stops new and young faces from rising. Remarkably, the 2000 Constitution says that anyone running for political office has to be elected by the rank and file, but like so many things in Venezuela, this has been ignored by the Courts and the politicians.
But primaries are good, because they force candidates to define themselves, allow anyone that can find some funding to run and have your ideas exposed to everyone and candidates have to work hard to meet the people,walk the streets and campaign. In time, some rise, some drop in popularity, forcing decisions on the candidates that define the race. It is a natural selection process which also allows unknowns to be recognized, setting themselves up for a future race.
While I certainly hope the primary process has helped the opposition, there is still a long way to go for it to be considered a success, but I think it has worked rather well, even if the candidates have avoided strong confrontations with each other. Diego Arria had his voice heard, once, in that wants to see Chavez pay for his human rights violations and the second time in placing the focus on the difficulties that an opposition Government is going to have. Maria Corina Machado managed to get some respect with her direct confrontations with Chavez and showing she knows the numbers. Pablo Medina had his pro-union stance heard and fought to the end, gaining a visibility and respect from the opposition that he had never had. Finally, Leopoldo Lopez was allowed to register, but his campaign never gained the traction required. He withdrew and took the risky option of backing one of the other candidates, redefining the race.
I liked Lopez the most. I liked how he went and set up a national network, I like his intuition, his long term thinking, his broader economic vision, his knowledge, his experience and his direct questions. But still, I have more radical economic views than him, in terms of proposing change. And, of course, he is not a candidate any more.
I liked Diego Arria’s decision to run on principles and stay that course. That is how you build political ideas in a country. Remarkably, Arria seems to understand that “other” Venezuela, the rural one that votes for Chavez, better than the other candidates. That came through a couple of times in the debates, but Arria did not define things beyond his main goal, otherwise I could have said I would vote for him. (I actually can’t vote, still registered in Venezuela, where I plan to be next October 7th. for the presidential election)
Then there is Maria Corina Machado. Great race, great words, truly shook up Chavez with her words and managed to shine in the debates. However, she has little managerial experience (Please don’t bring up Sumate), little national structure and to me, she did not try to create much beyond herself.
Which leaves the two Governors, Henrique Capriles and Pablo Perez. In both cases, I disliked the fact that they ran as if they were running for reelection. They talked about satisfying the needs of the population, solving problems and providing services, but neither of them ever gave even much of a hint of the vision they had for the country and the few words devoted to it were not exactly aligned with my thinking. You can promise jobs, but please tell me how you will go about it, Venezuela is complex and requires many types of new jobs.
Pablo Perez was to me a disappointment. He is not only stiff, but he is not that articulate and even his delivery is faulty. In the debate I watched live, I scored him almost at the same level as Pablo Medina, which tells you he did not excite me at all.
Henrique Capriles was also stiff, but was more articulate, more precise. Still concentrated too much on the solving problems for the people without telling me much about his vision for the country. He made statements about the economy that I did not like. But he has experience managing a difficult municipality and a difficult state. The tempo and strategy of his campaign has been exquisite. And while I don’t agree with his less confrontational style with Chavez, it seems to work rather well. I wish it did not, but it certainly does and his political intuition has worked rather well.
And here, I will insert a personal note. I have many friends who are involved in Capriles’ campaign. They are all competent, devoted, hard working and I am sure many of them will occupy positions in a Capriles administration. That alone gives me some comfort in the future of a possible Capriles presidency. BTW, they all tell me Capriles is much, much better in person. Never met him.
But more importantly, at least to me, is that it is time for a new generation to take control and run the country in a more modern way. Capriles and Lopez backing him represent that. The old political parties, the cogollos and those that trapped the country in the Cuarta into an impossible path, should move aside.
And even more critically, we need a strong mandate on Sunday and I will vote to try to give it to Capriles. I think he will win, win big too. Pablo Perez could have beaten Capriles two months ago using his voting structure to get out the vote, but Leopoldo’s own structure tipped the balance strongly on Capriles side. Pablo Perez will not be close, Maria Corina will not do well. Those are my predictions.
Then comes the harder part, the winner has to beat Chavez. And I also believe that Capriles is the better prepared candidate to defeat the Autocrat. The soft style seems to work, even if I don’t understand why. If I was interested in politics, that would not be my style at all. Maybe that is why I am not, nor could be a politician. It is a long campaign between now in February and then in October, but the stage seems to be set.
So, now you know how the Devil would vote, even if you don’t have any idea who the Devil you would vote for. Whatever your choice is, go do it, in the end that may be the most important thing. If the opposition gets 1.5 million plus voters, it will scare the daylights out of Chavez, forcing him to change strategies and by now we all know he is better at setting the debate than reacting to it.
Please, go and vote!