Take physic, pomp

The Venezuela regional elections

The elections are on today! And rather than give my kinda tepid and snarky version about what might happen, it’s time to hand over to some experts. BBO financial services is run by Chávez opposition (such as Miguel Octavio, the guy behind the blog ‘the devil’s excrement’), but no matter, because every week they publish a round up of Venezuelan affairs that’s not much more balanced than anything blogged, but useful and fact laden all the same.

This week they added a preview to today’s elections to their note, and in my humble opinon it sums up things pretty well. So here’s the section of the report. Enjoy.


On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls and vote for 22 Governors (all but Amazonas State), 328 Mayors and all of the State Legislators. After Chávez’ loss in the Constitutional referendum last year, Sunday’s election will have a crucial role in the future of the country, as it may define whether President Hugo Chávez presses or not for a new Constitutional referendum to allow him to be reelected indefinitely. Additionally, were Chávez to score a victory, it will allow him to push forward his revolutionary program.

In the end, the winner on Sunday may be determined more by which side sells the outcome better, rather than who is the actual winner in terms of the number of votes, municipalities or governors obtained. Clearly, President Chávez has an edge on this, given that it is expected that he will win a majority of the 22 states up for grabs and he is definitely a great salesman of illusions. However, he is likely to lose a number of states to the opposition, which currently only holds two of them (Nueva Esparta and Zulia), as well as to dissident Chavistas, running independent candidacies against those of his PSUV party.

The opposition may be too confident coming in to Sunday. Last year’s referendum victory may not easily translate into a victory on Sunday. Chávez’ popularity has actually picked up since that vote, as the food shortages that plagued the country

in the second half of 2007 have disappeared and the opposition, while achieving a semblance of unity, still did not manage to present a single front in many states, even if it did a better job than everyone expected.

Chávez has run the campaign as if he was the candidate, roaming the country with a very aggressive speech, the real candidates hidden in the background. What is unknown is how much of this he can actually pass on to his candidates, some of whom are not only somewhat lackluster, but in some cases even Chávez’ support towards them seemed to be lukewarm.

It will be abstention that is likely to decide many races, a parameter that local pollsters have always had a hard time predicting well. Some argue that the three million supporters Chávez had in his 2006 reelection, who failed to vote in the 2007 referendum will vote this time, but it is unclear to us that if Chávez’ machinery motivates these voters, that they will actually follow the party line.

This is the way we see the possible outcome at this time, based on conversations with experts and polls:

—The opposition

In the end we expect the opposition to show significant gains in this election, but it is unclear whether it can sell it to the electorate well. Chávez on the other hand, will claim a huge victory in most scenarios, even if he understands that the results represent a significant setback for him.

At this time, the opposition appears likely to have clear victories in Nueva Esparta and Zulia, the two states currently in its hands, but it will add Tachira, Carabobo and Sucre with certainty. Miranda State also looks like it will likely tilt towards the opposition, as the race is close, but Chavista Governor Diosdado Cabello seems to have too high of level of

rejection to turn it around and the possible victory of the opposition in the Sucre municipality, may make the difference in the Miranda Governor’s race.

Beyond this, the opposition may score victories in Mérida, Yaracuy, Cojedes and Falcón, but no more than that. Thus, we look for the opposition to win five Governorships and maybe, just maybe, add some from the remaining four possible states.

–Dissident Chavismo

From an image point of view, Chávez will have to deal with dissident Chavistas taking at least three states: Guárico, Trujillo and Barinas, with a chance that Portuguesa will also go for them. The latter is something some are suggesting, but would definitely surprise us. But at least two of these are certain and if Chávez’ PSUV were to lose his home state of Barinas, it will certainly represent a blow to his image, given that his own brother is the candidate there. It is certainly remarkable that Chávez may lose from two to three of the states of the “llanos” of Venezuela, once the bastion of his powerbase and his own birthplace.


The opposition may have lost a huge opportunity in Bolivar State, where it failed to reach an agreement to run a single candidate, which would have likely given it the win, but now the state is solidly in the Chavista column, much like Anzoategui, Aragua, Delta Amacuro, Apure, Lara, Monagas and Vargas. Thus, eight states are solidly in Chávez’ column. Note however, that only three of them are highly populated with Chavismo dominating in the poor and sparsely populated states.

Summarizing, we see eight states going for Chávez’ PSUV, six for the opposition and three for dissident Chavismo, with the remainder too close to call, but likely to go for Chavismo if abstention is not low.

Add to this the Mayor of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, which we see going to the opposition and carries a lot of weight from the point of view of claiming victory and any opposition victory in the states which are too close to call could easily shift the tide against Chávez proclaiming victory. Once again, it will be abstention which will determine the probability of this happening, as the opposition voters seem better motivated than those of PSUV.

Finally, while many observers dismiss fraud and manipulation as unlikely, the final results on Sunday could be heavily disputed and lead to confrontation. People should remember that while Chávez did lose the Constitutional Referendum last year, the final and detailed results were never revealed by the Electoral Board despite the protests of the opposition and the fact that it is simply a violation of the law.

This puts into question the ability of the opposition to either request a recount or ask for the publication of the final results in states where the race may be too close or disputed.

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