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The ABC’s of Venezuelan Politics

By Alexandra Beech, veninvestor.com

To win an election against President Chavez, the Democratic Coordinator could learn a lesson from the Democratic Party in the United States. For the past year, both the Democratic Party and Democratic Coordinator were considered leaderless. They had their stars, but both lacked The Candidate. This was considered a grave weakness, since both faced formidable opponents.

Recent US primaries have demonstrated how a structured method of selection can separate the stars from the fading comets. Primaries let voters pick the potential president.

Until very recently, the Democratic Party seemed to be in a crisis, perceived and disjointed and “disorganized.”

Dr. Howard Dean, the anti-establishment rebel, seemed to have the candidacy for the Democratic Party guaranteed. However, his strategy to win Iowa at all costs, burning through $40 million, cost him dearly. That was only augmented by his post-loss screaming, which was interpreted by voters as instability.

All of a sudden, his exuberance was a weakness, and voters turned to the suave Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to assuage their nerves.

The slogan traveling through Democratic circles across the country was ABB – Anyone But Bush. That meant a clean-cut, relatively moderate guy who could appeal to voters across the spectrum.

During the past few days, a breeze of relief has blown through the Democratic Party, and through parts of the country in general. A solid candidate has emerged against Bush, (maybe two, if John Edwards accepts to run as Vice-President). The Dean Factor is gone. The New York Times reports: “Some Democratic leaders had openly worried that if Dr. Dean lost the nomination, after being perceived as having it all but locked up, the eventual nominee would have to revive the party.”

Imagine if there had been no primaries, if Dean, Kerry, Clark, and Edwards (assuming that everyone else ran out of money), would have run against Bush. Needless to say, Bush would have won the elections before the votes were even counted. (chads or not)

Yet that is the scenario that Venezuelans are facing if the opposition does not take steps to select one candidate to run against Chavez.

The Venezuelan Democratic Coordinator, an amorphous amalgam of political parties and civic organizations, until now has lacked a strategy to pick one candidate. (Some would argue that it is pregnant with too many.) And its reticence to declare one leader has placed it in a position to be vilified and distrusted.

Why a primary, argue some? Clearly, some polls show that Venezuelans would gravitate towards the candidate most likely to beat Chavez. That is a naive and dangerous stance. If Enrique Mendoza, Manuel Cova, and Henrique Salas Rhomer were to run together, Chavez would be president until 2006. Or 2013. Or 2021.

Why take a chance? If the opposition has mastered gathering and counting signatures, why can’t it organize a primary?

Today, 45% of Americans would vote for Bush, and 40% of Venezuelans would vote for Chavez. About 10% of American voters are undecided. The percentage of undecided voters in Venezuela is greater. Democrats know that to win against Bush, the great anti-terrorist champion, they will have to appeal to undecided voters, in states that could swing in either direction. They will have to focus on the issues that each state cares about, such as the environment. They will also have to delicately handle The War Issue, not wanting to step on the toes of Americans who support Bush on the war, even as they collect their unemployment checks. How will the Democrats offer an agenda that makes Americans feel safe against Boeing 747’s, while at the same time promising to create a stable and healthy economy?

The Venezuelan opposition will also have to appeal to undecided voters. To beat Chavez, they will have to focus on The Poverty Issue. Chavez is furiously campaigning, spending ridiculously on social programs, devaluing the Bolivar to turn oil dollars into even more bolivars, promising food, shelter, scholarships and everything else. How will the opposition guarantee that they will continue providing for Venezuela’s poor, while at the same time promising to create a stable and healthy economy?

Needless to say, most Venezuelans I know function on the ABC principle – Anyone But Chavez. But if the opposition doesn’t take concrete actions to ensure an electoral victory, Chavez will be our president far longer than most Venezuelans desire.



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