05 December, 2005

Why Did the Opposition Withdraw?

My theory on the opposition's abstention consists of several parts:

1. To state the obvious, low turn-out = vote with absence
2. The opposition wouldn't have won many positions anyway
3. Who wants to wait 8-12 hrs to vote?
4. The opposition is looking to not so much quicken their death, as to quicken the death of political opposition in Venezuela
5. Allows for a redefinition of the opposition, as Chavez has already pointed out.

These points beg the following question, namely, whether the relinquishing of political representation by the Venezuelan opposition make a violent alternative to challenging Chavez's power more likely?

(1) Voting with absence reminds me of voting with your feet. To be fair, many Venezuelans have emigrated since 1998. According to the Immigration office of the Colombian secret service, during the first quarter of 2003, 12,000 Venezuelans emigrated to their brother country. During the second semester of that same year, almost twice the number, or 22,455 followed the same route. Overall, no official figures exist for the total number of Venezuelans that have emigrated since Chavez took office. However, it's estimated that 200,000 left during the first three years of his presidency. Another estimate posists a figure of 500,000 for the number of Venezuelans that have left the country in the past 5-7 years. The majority of these emigrants would have gone to the US, and particularly southern Florida, with Colombia and Spain as secondary destinations. The highest estimate I have found for emigration under Chavez claims up to 900,000 emigrants, though this is figure is rather high. I would like to explore this avenue of research at a later date. For now, I will just add that, in keeping with the low turn out in Venezuela (in fact, surpassing it), of 12,000 or so registered Venezuelan voters in Miami, only 33 registered their votes on Sunday (all but one for pro-Chavez candidates). Here is a site founded in 2001 that aims to help Venezuelans considering emigration.

(2) The opposition was not expected to win many seats in these elections. This should be no surprise, given their lackluster campaigning since the Referendo, a drive which has hinged on the same tired arguments over the "fraude" committed by the government in the same referendum.

(3) Yes, people waited up to 12 hrs during last year's Referendo. My aunt waited 8 hrs, 2 of which I endured along her side. Who would want to do the same this year, especially after many of the same people that would abstain from these elections would certainly fear yet another "fraude." Plus, the opposition would certainly lose the majority of the seats to pro-Chavez parties, for many reasons which I cannot discuss within this space (most of the have to do with the one-track mind of the opposition).

(4) The last thing the opposition did was try the constitutional route in August of 2004, unsuccessfully, as well as the municipal elections that followed, which showed overwhelming support for the Chavez camp. By giving the government the reigns of power, the drive to concentrate power around the executive office will only become speedier. So far, the courts have been packed, the bi-cameral congress unified under one parliament, presidential terms extended (with the possibility to revoke term limits, coming up soon), and more recently, a law passed that forbids "offending" the president and others around him, which has given way to a self-imposed gag rule on the part of the private media. There's many other things to add to this list, but these items should suffice. With Chavez's grip over power tightening and political opposition to his office now virtually inexistent, perhaps the opposition is looking to let the government "speak for itself," handing the forum over to the civil opposition on the streets of Venezuela. Does this spell doom for Democracy in Venezuela? I would like to be optimistic, but these elections may mark the end of legal opposition to the Chavez government. What will replace political opposition, is yet to be seen, though armed opposition is one alternative I do not hope to see.

(5) My hopes are that after a period of silence, opposition to Chavez's government will be reconstituted in a new form, and hopefully not only a new guise. There's not a lot on the horizon that would corroborate the possibility of this hapenning, though there is at least one group stepping up to the plate. That said, I must confess I have been rather negiglent in keeping up with Venezuelan politics since last year's referendo. Like the opposition parties, much of my hope died with that election.

Vota No

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