Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hugo Chavez and "The Opposition"

Much is said about the Presidency of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez suggesting that his tenure has been an "undemocratic" threat to "stability". In the US media much weight and credibility is given to the democratic credentials groups inside Venezuela usually referred to rather vaguely as "the opposition". Meanwhile the democratic credentials of the party that keeps winning elections, Chavez' "Bolivarian" movement, is questioned in the US even as we live under a President who rose to power illegally (reference is made to the incompatibility of stone-throwing and glass houses).

Joshua Holland has very illuminating article up on AlterNet about just who these darlings of the American media, the Venezuelan "opposition, are.

Venezuela's hyperpolarized politics have bled into our own ugly discourse and, as usual, progressives are reacting to the messaging on the right; they say Chávez is a tyrant, he hates democracy, he killed Santa -- and we dutifully debunk the charges.

But when it's all about Hugo Chávez, it puts the burden on his supporters; they have to explain every hyperbolic phrase that passes his lips and every move he makes to advance what is in fact a dramatic -- and predictably painful for some -- social and economic restructuring of Venezuelan society.

It's tiresome and it puts those who don't automatically hate him on the defensive. That's why, as we edge closer to December's Venezuelan elections, it's time to start talking about Venezuelan politics in the same way we talk about politics in Canada or Europe or anywhere else. There are always at least two sides in democratic contests, and there are policy differences that get voters' attention. But we never hear about those things in relation to Venezuela -- it's like Chávez is governing in a vacuum.

The most obvious thing missing from the mainstream discourse is the Venezuelan opposition. But its members deserve some attention because while they're portrayed generically as members of "civil society" -- and often as champions of democracy -- in fact they're a deeply unpopular group of plutocrats with very little support among the majority of the Venezuelan population.

A recent poll -- an opposition poll conducted by Hinterlaces (translation courtesy of Oilwars) -- showed that 55 percent of the population plans to vote for Chávez in the upcoming elections, a number consistent with the 55-60 percent of the vote he's gotten in his previous three contests.

It's tempting to focus on that number, but look at some other numbers in the poll -- the numbers on Chávez's top challengers among Venezuela's opposition.

The candidate that came in second in the poll was Zulia state Gov. Manuel Rosales, with 7 percent -- an eighth of Chávez's support. Broadcaster Julio Borges came in third with 5 percent, and businessman Roberto Smith with 2 percent. Every one of the opposition candidates was beaten by "someone new" (17 percent) and "none of the above" (10 percent).

So the top three candidates after Chávez, combined, have the support of 14 percent of the electorate -- about a quarter of Hugo Chávez's popular support. (Another recent poll, by Datanalisis, had Chávez at 59 percent, Rosales at 9 percent and Borges at 8 percent.)

Does this not say it all? In sane world, approval like that would be seen as the very expression of democracy with an emerging sense of stability, not a threat to it. But it seems it all comes down to what is meant by certain people when they use those words. "Stability for whom," is the question.


Brian said...

I would like to see a proof of the comment "in the US even as we live under a President who rose to power illegally ".

This is a little bit of a lie, wouldn't you say?

It is a super old topic that does not hold water anymore... you should probably not bring it up since it discredits the rest of your articles, if you believe in such nonsense.


FearItself said...

Call it nonsense of you like, but at the time this ruling was handed down it was deeply controversial and you go too far in characterizing it as a settled issue that is only disputed by the disreputable. There were 4 United
States Supreme Court Justices who agreed with me.

FearItself said...

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the court's "equal protection" rationale for taking the unprecedented step of cancelling a state's electoral recount -- basically asserting that the varying tallying standards between counties in FL amounted to unequal protection of voters -- would invalidate every election above the county level held anywhere in this country.

In short, to believe the court's decision in Bush v. Gore is to believe that we haven't held a held held a constitutionally valid election above the county level since the 14th Amendment was ratified. I personally don't believe that. Do you?

Brian said...

Either you misunderstand what happened, or I do. As I understand it, the recount (according to Gore) was to be via a standard of "intent of the voter", thereby it is an "equal" standard across all counties because they all agree with that. This means there is no quantitative way of determining whether the hanging chad.. or the vote for Buchanan (I believe it was him) was real.

A quantitative way would have been, for example, if 75% of the chad were dislodged, it will count as a vote. But, this type of thing was not agreed upon across counties... if they used this voting system type.

This is really a recount issue, not a first count issue. I tend to believe that with the current voting system/s (even those older ones... as a whole (99.99999999999%), it is easy enough to determine exactly who or what the voter voted for.

Like I said earlier, Gore NEVER had enough votes... even after the hundreds of recounts, holding the ballots up to a UV light, or whatever schemes they tried to employ. So this is really a moot point. The supreme court decision was irrelevant to Bush getting elected.

FearItself said...

Wow, I never saw your last response here so I'm really late responding to it. You are very wrong about Gore never having enough votes to win. After the debacle concluded, the dust settled and we were all told the the nation could not stand the strain of acting like the constitution meant something, a consortium of major media outlets conducted their own recount, using actual ballots and following the actual procedure that Florida state law mandated. In that recount they found that had a state-wide recount been allowed to go forward Gore would have won.

Understand, this was the definitive recount study. It wasn't just a recount of certain counties. It wasn't limited to "undervotes" or any other qualifier. It was a comprehensive, all-inclusive state-wide recount. In these state-wide recounts, under all scenarios and methodologies, Gore won. The only recount scenarios that led to Bush wins were the scenarios where only limited sets of ballots were re-counted (ie, certain counties only or "undervotes" only). And of course, the bogus official results -- the only one we know for certain was screwed up and gave Bush the widest margin. But that's the one the supreme court insisted upon. Go figure.

Of course, even though it was the mainstream media that commissioned the study, the results got short shrift in that same mainstream media's reports. That's the "liberal media" for ya.

I hate being the one to break it you, Brian, but we as Americans wuz robbed. The people of FL came to the polling place and tried to elect to Al Gore. But now we watch helplessly as this fool we have in office today drives us all over a cliff.