If You Don’t Vote You Won’t Eat, Or You Don’t Vote Because You Can’t Eat?

Venezuelan political analyst Nestor Francia takes a look at the high abstention in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

By Nestor Francia – Aporrea
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The empty-looking Martinez Centeno School voting centre in Caracas. (El Tiempo)
The empty-looking Martinez Centeno School voting centre in Caracas. (El Tiempo)

The article’s title refers to an unpleasant comment by [elected lawmaker and PSUV number two] Diosdado Cabello (1).

I don’t think he was serious when he said it, but if so, it was a joke in poor taste in a country where eating (or rather getting a balanced diet beyond rice, pasta and flour) has become one of the greatest national dramas! His comments also reflect the poor level of the political discourse in the country in recent times.

But beyond the anecdotal story, what really happened last Sunday?

PSUV Constituent Deputy Fernando Rivero recently published A Reading of the 2020 Parliamentary Elections 2020 in which, after a positive balance of the results, presents an interesting opinion: "The abstention reflects deep discontent, people's growing divorce from politics, an abyss between political communication and people's problems."

It is refreshing to see that this lawmaker is reflecting, especially in light of the competition of banality with which many PSUV candidates have assumed the polemic electoral results.

Propagandist [and outgoing Communications Minister] Jorge Rodriguez stated that Sunday "was a gigantic victory of the forces of the Venezuelan revolution, it was a gigantic victory for Nicolas Maduro.” Well, in my opinion, the only "gigantic victory" of the weekend was that of [Venezuelan track Olympic medallist] Yulimar Rojas, who was chosen best female athlete in the world for 2020. This really was gigantic, because she's 1.92m tall!

As for the PSUV, the parliamentary election reminded me of my controversial 2018 article The Pyrrhic Victory. This may bring up bad memories for certain PSUV fans of the red sect.

Someone once said that mathematics is the poetry of the universe. This makes sense because, unlike human poetry, that of the universe is perfect; the higher entity has no ego, no sensitivity, no morality, no pettiness, no envy, no jealousy, no complacency, no hidden interests, none of these attributes which adorn the species to which I belong with so little pride. I will therefore observe the election result poetically (mathematically).

Firstly, one must point to the overwhelming advantage that the PSUV had in this election. They were fixed elections. Mind you, I'm not talking here about fraud, I'm talking about the political skill with which the scenario was set so that the electoral event was not at all competitive and the result was foreseen.

The ruling party applied its entire power in manoeuvring to promote and achieve the absolute fragmentation of participating opposition forces, the judicialization of parties with the Supreme Court acting as a biased arbiter of partisan disputes and usurping the rights of party membership. The ruling party also assured an overwhelming, expensive and advantageous election campaign, which included the abusive and one-way use of state media as well as other actions more typical of the [right wing member of the two-party pre-Chavez system] Democratic Action, such as the distribution of food during campaigning, the proliferation of millionaire economic subsidies, and offers of bread and work.

But this is fine: a politician without skills doesn't deserve any power, and there were also losers who went along with this game, some due to opportunism, others looking for crumbs, none by conviction.

As for the PSUV campaign, in a couple of private meetings I expressed my view that it was communicationally impeccable and in accordance with the party’s interest of obtaining a parliamentary majority. To this end, the campaign concentrated on repetitive messages (which is correct in terms of publicity) appealing to the typical gadgets of any election campaign in liberal democracies: banal jingles which stick in your head, slogans, promises of "change" and solutions, colourful and attractive graphics. Above all, the PSUV’s communications campaign had a very clear target audience: their hard vote, PSUV members, the only ones they could count on but also the ones that could guarantee a clear majority with general participation rates around 20 percent.

They did it and they won, it has to be said. They won by applying policies that aimed to win, although the victory is not much of a "popular" one. One of the red sectarian members exclaimed in Aporrea this week that “Venezuela has won!" No sir, the PSUV won, to Caesar what is Caesar's, but don't misrepresent the truth. Venezuela (sorry, the absolute majority of Venezuela) neither won nor lost, but remains the same because it overwhelmingly abstained. So let's see what the poetry of the universe tells us.

According to the second announcement issued by the CNE [on Monday] and following the counting of 98.63 of the votes, turnout was 30.5 percent.

In general, this thorny issue is being dodged by the PSUV leadership, which adopts the ostrich's tactic of hiding the head in the sand or that of children closing their eyes and believing that they become invisible. To be fair, the propagandist Rodriguez did once talk about the participation percentage and mentioned it was 32 percent. Of course, Rodriguez had the right to round the figure up, but I thought it made sense for him to talk about 31 percent. I, for example, round down because I think it must have been 30 percent at most. But this is still anecdotal.

The truth is that despite the campaign, the speeches and rallies, the historical hallucinations ([candidate Nicolas] Maduro Guerra claimed that it was a "historic" election, when it is for sure that in 50 year people will remember the event less than [former Chavista figure and opposition parliamentary candidate Luis] Acosta Carles). Many Venezuelans did not respond to the calls to vote, which became increasingly desperate on voting day. Seven out of every ten voters stayed at home, and not because of the COVID-19 quarantine, while only 20 percent of the electoral roll voted in favour of the PSUV.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has since attempted to comfort PSUV supporters by talking about Romania's [parliamentary] elections [held on the same day and in which 31 percent participated]. I don't know what the phrase "participatory and protagonic democracy" is in Romanian, but I'm sure little is spoken about it there.

However, there are those who believe that abstention is not a political expression, with whom I disagree. Of course Venezuela’s abstention was not an endorsement of "interim president" [Juan Guaido who boycotted the vote], but it was a manifestation of discontent, of majority rejection of the political choices they were offered.

This non acceptance has been there for a long time, but there is nobody as blind as the one who does not want to see, nor anyone easier to deceive than the one who wants to believe. As [Venezuelan political analyst] Maryclen Stelling correctly said, from the point of view of leadership, there is a situation of anomia in Venezuela. The last leadership we have seen died with Hugo Chavez. Maduro is the leader of that 20 percent that follows him and nothing more. He is another highly unpopular president like almost every president in the world. Guaido is not the leader of anything not because he doesn’t have another minority supporting him, which he does, but because Guiaido’s minority lacks the coherence, discipline, mobilisation capacity and efficient organisation that characterises the PSUV minority.

What is for sure is that the government’s support base is growing ever thinner. This has been demonstrated through mathematical calculations and should be evident to anyone who has eyes.

If the ruling party follows this path, there will come a time when it will crumble, especially because its enemies won’t relax today nor tomorrow. One should read recent statements by [EU Foreign Policy Chief] Joseph Borrel, [former Spanish President] José María Aznar and [US Special Envoy for Venezuela] Elliot Abrams carefully. There, they try to whip the Venezuelan opposition to come together at last. Those pressures are on the way and we should be careful because they may just work. If the current scenario is maintained, a united opposition is almost sure to win any election in which it calls to vote. That is what happened in the 2015 parliamentary elections, when there was a 71 percent turnout.

I will not go over the PSUV’s serious political mistakes again, but it is enough to say that they are only surpassed by those perpetrated by the inept opposition. My tongue hurts from saying it so often.

My only request is that the PSUV base membership, which I know and in which there are so many honest and critical people, has the courage to demand accountability, to not believe that it is correct to repeat the same old discourse that is directed to people like themselves and no one else, to continue to shout slogans like a broken record that few people accompany, or to continue to act as an evangelical sect that raves before erratic shepherds.

Now Guaido and his associates' "popular consultation" is coming. Get prepared to hear, on December 12, the proclamation of another so-called "gigantic victory." Luckily, Christmas and New Year are on the horizon and we can rest until January 5, when the theatre of Venezuelan politics raise its curtain once again.

(1) During the campaign, Cabello said during a rally that women should get their entire household to vote, and to leave their husbands without food if they failed to do so. "Those who don't vote, don't eat." His comments were widely criticized on social media.

Nestor Francia is a Venezuelan writer and political analyst.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.