By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- A low voter turnout October 15th is what worries Juan Pablo Guanipa the most.
The opposition lawmaker, career politician, and now candidate to the governorship of Zulia state -- one of the top oil producing regions in the hemisphere -- said as much to a small group of journalists at an informal gathering in Caracas days ago.
“I think Maduro can still get, at a state level, 30% of the popular vote, particularly with their dirty tricks, busing people to voting centers, watching over them as they vote to make sure they cast their ballots for Maduro candidates. But if voter turnout is high enough, say abstention is below 30%, we can beat that no problem,” Guanipa told the Latin American Herald Tribune
Voter turnout for regional elections is usually low, between 30 to 40%. Now, with political repression (including the killing of 123 demonstrators and security crackdowns during the latest round of protests and the imprisonment of 487 demonstrators and militants on political grounds) unusually high, the opposition and analysts fear it will be high enough to prevent opposition candidates from winning.
Regional elections are, after all, a new phenomenon in Venezuela: state governors were appointed by the President until 1989.
Pushing decentralization and state autonomy came with a heavy cost for then President Carlos Andres Perez: in 1992 a then unknown lieutenant colonel, Hugo Chavez, staged a failed coup d’ etat against that and other “neoliberal” policies. And, once he himself became President, Chavez spent a good chunk of his time in power undermining state governments, particularly if they fell to the opposition. For instance, when opposition stalwart Henrique Capriles won Miranda state, the government quickly formed a parallel state government, CorpoMiranda, an entity that answers only to the President but which receives a budget larger than the state government.
The opposition is fully, painfully, aware of this trend and is -- since campaigning for state elections began Saturday 23rd -- undertaking an effort to get the vote out, not for any individual candidate, but for the opposition in general.
Parties that traditionally competed are now taking an institutional, pro-vote message to the masses. The government, however, has not called on voters to partake.
‘We invite the Venezuelan people to vote, because voting is a part of the protest,” opposition leader Gerardo Blyde stated during a press confidence for, precisely, getting the vote out on Wednesday, according to the MUD opposition coalition’s Twitter account. “Let’s vote because even if we have made mistakes in the past, even if we have had our differences, no mistake is bigger than the historical mistake of having Maduro in Miraflores” the Presidential Palace.
Granted, Maduro’s popularity is the lowest for any elected President since 1958, hovering at between 9 to 15% and the opposition handed him the most severe electoral defeat in Venezuelan electoral history less than two years ago. Inflation is at a world-record high and food and medicine shortages are only getting more serious. The regime was sanctioned thrice in a 72 hour period, by the US, Canada and the OAS and it looks like the European Union will implement sanctions soon too.
Still and all, Guanipa is not convinced: if people don’t come out, that will be a problem, in spite of Maduro’s bad performance. “There certainly has been a process of wearing out for chavismo as well over the last 18 years,” Guanipa conceded after a while. “But they still have that big machinery.”