Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory - Venezuelan Parliamentary Elections 2010

A slogan which reflects the bizarre world of the Venezuelan opposition in the aftermath of the September 26th parliamentary elections - Defeat is Victory.

By Arturo Rosales - Axis of Logic
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George Orwell’s novel “1984” published in 1949 is a vision of an Upside Down World where contradictions and lies are tantamount to truth. A flavor of how Orwell’s imagined society some 35 years in the future can be summed up by the three slogans of the ruling Party in the novel:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

We could also add another slogan to these which reflects the bizarre world of the Venezuelan opposition in the aftermath of the September 26th parliamentary elections

DEFEAT IS VICTORY

And remember, this is not a novel but rather, real life as seen in 2010 by people are purportedly the crème de la crème and most educated in contemporary Venezuelan society.

Election results

The final results for the Venezuelan parliamentary elections are based on a National Assembly of 165 deputies. The government party the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 98 seats; the opposition umbrella party, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) won 65 seats and the Homeland for All Party (PPT) secured 2 seats.

This is an absolute majority for the PSUV, of which Chávez is the president, but fell short of the 110 seats or 2/3 qualified majority required to pass any structural or organic legislation which was the target set by the PSUV Campaign Command. The question is whether the return of the Venezuelan opposition to the National Assembly with 40% of the deputies will be enough to prevent legislation being passed to apply the tenets of the 1999 Constitution during the next five years.

In short the answer is an unqualified NO.

The New National Assembly

In a national broadcast on the evening of September 27th Chávez stated that all the necessary organic laws required had already been passed in the 2006 – 2010 parliamentary period. Therefore, the fact that the PSUV did not gain the two-thirds majority is in all practical and legislative terms academic. As we shall explain later, the PSUV was able to pass these organic laws due to the opposition boycott of the vote in 2005, thus forfeiting control of the entire congress to the PSUV. Their decision to boycott and abstain was obviously a strategic error on their part.
 
In addition, in the new National Assembly, the opposition will not have enough votes to be able to overturn revolutionary laws already on the statute books; nor will they be able to remove the Supreme Court Judges or the Rectors of the National Electoral Council (CNE), or have President Chávez judged and removed from office for his alleged “crimes against Venezuela and the Constitution”, a la institutional coup against Zelaya in Honduras. This was the master plan probably thought out at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

What the opposition may be able to do is to block some parliamentary proceedings and slow down the legislative process as they did from 2001 – 2005 when they had around 80 deputies in the chamber. In that period draft laws were burned, there were fist fights in the Assembly; stairs were blocked to prevent the President of the Assembly from taking his seat and the quorum was frequently broken by walk outs. With 65 deputies, even if they all walk out, the Assembly will still be able to legislate since, according to procedural rules, 50% of the deputies plus one (83) is required and again, the revolutionary party has 98. 

This is the reality which will manifest itself from January 5th 2011 when the new National Assembly is opened for its five year period. However, according to the MUD (opposition) spokespersons they were victorious in the elections. I suppose that one could say that when compared to the 2005 elections, which the opposition boycotted and won no seats that they have now increased their representation in the Assembly from zero to 65 or by 6500% and the government lost 41%. To the MUD mind, this is a resounding victory!
This is indeed snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the opposition’s Upside Down World.

The opposition “victory”

Since Venezuela became democratic in 1961 no one party has ever won a 2/3 or qualified majority in parliamentary elections. The only time it happened was in 2005 when the opposition abandoned the vote and handed the complete Assembly to the Chavez allied parties on forfeit. Abstention in such elections is usually high but this time 66.45% of the electorate voted – a record for the Venezuelan parliamentary elections.

The “victory” the Venezuelan opposition is crowing about is a claim they are making that their candidates won 52% of the popular or total vote compared to the PSUV’s 48%. There claim that they won 500,000 more votes than the ruling party is false, but useful. It serves their propaganda and that of the capitalist media who are already saying that the opposition now has the backing of the majority population in the country and Chávez is on his way out.

Chávez addressed this assertion on live TV. According to the National Electoral Council (CNE) the PSUV received 5.422.040 votes and the opposition parties under the MUD banner 5.320.175. This is a 50.5% versus 49.5% in favor of the PSUV. So how did the opposition calculate that they had a 4% advantage?

The trick was to take the votes of all the small parties who did not win any seats and add them to their total. These smaller parties were not part of the MUD electoral umbrella and hence their votes do not count in the MUD total.

As President Chávez said last night – if the opposition is confident according to their calculations and political analysis that he has only a minority of voters behind him, then they should invoke Article 72 of the Constitution and trigger a national referendum against him. They would only have to collect 3.5 million signatures to launch the referendum, which should not be a problem since they have more than 5 million votes. Why wait two years and three months for the 2012 presidential elections? To wait would be to allow Chávez to recover his popularity in that space of time. Even the most rabid Chávez haters would not risk losing another referendum to unseat the president. They remember August 15, 2004 all too well when they called a referendum to take him out of office and he won 59% of the referendum vote. It is all a fantasy and propaganda in an Upside Down World.

Media manipulation campaign continues

The objective of this manipulation of election numbers and percentages has been to feed false propaganda to the corporate media who are already publishing the assertions made by the opposition around 3am on Monday morning. The western media, including the BBC  began publishing these second hand lies as fact, without even bothering to wait or check the official CNE results which are published on the CNE web site. The Caracas Chronicles blog was the only opposition medium that did not attempt to mislead their readers, having had the honesty to take only the MUD and PSUV votes in their calculations. Other opposition blogs simply fed on the lie and these can be seen in black and white at the Devil's Excrement  and Venezuela News and Views.

The 52% - 48% split based on mathematical magic and hence a manipulation has also been used to mislead English speaking readers by saying that since the opposition had a 4% overall vote advantage how could it be possible that the opposition MUD won 33 seats less than the PSUV?

We’ve already debunked their false claim to have won 52% of the popular vote. But for the sake of this follow-up argument, please note that this was not a national referendum but a vote limited to electoral districts. The votes are counted within each district of each individual state (24 of them) and the winner(s) gain entry to the National Assembly. These are the nominal or named candidates for which there are 87 electoral districts.

Notes on the voting system: Articles 63 and 186 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution specify proportional representation in elections. Proportional representation  is a class of voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections, and the percentage of seats they receive. This constitutional precept is guaranteed by the list vote of Venezuelan parliamentary elections, where voters select the party of their choice and the number of votes is allocated to each party’s list of candidates in descending order.

Article 186 also specifies that a vote must be personalized. This means that a voter should vote for a named (nominal candidate) individual and the candidate receiving the most votes in elected. The vote intention of the voter in this case is not necessarily for a party since he may not prefer the party but has confidence in the individual. Thus the vote is personalized.

The Venezuelan opposition is maintaining that in order to preserve the constitutional guarantee of proportional representation across the board, the nominal votes should be added to the list votes and then allocated proportionately to the parties’ candidate list. This would mean that a voter’s vote for the individual candidate would be used twice or duplicated which would negate the precept in Article 186 that the vote is personalized, since it would be used for that candidate’s party which may not be the same as the voter’s preference in the party list vote. Hence this would distort the voter’s intention and create the bizarre situation of votes being counted twice in a context for which they were not intended. Thus, the voter’s intention could be defrauded by allocating his vote to a party he does not necessarily support.

The outcry by some undemocratic and ultra right opposition sectors is because their candidates had greater majorities in fewer electoral districts when compared to the PSUV candidates. The latter won their seats on a much broader front but with a lower percentage of the votes cast in each electoral district.

It is typical that the opposition is now objecting to the electoral system after being soundly beaten. They would have like all voting to be proportional and national, which is clearly not possible in these legislative elections which are regional in nature.

In Venezuela’s most populous state, Zulia, the opposition MUD won 12 out of 15 deputies with the PSUV just taking three. In this state, the MUD received around 55% of the vote but got 80% of the deputies. No one has heard any complaints from the opposition camp on this score.

Summary

This is the system which all candidates were aware of before postulating themselves as candidates. If they did not agree with the system then they should not have competed rather than competing and then crying “foul”. The players should understand the rules of the game and register their complaints before entering; instead, the opposition strategy always attempts to discredit the system in order to rationalize and explain their losses.

The manipulation of the number of votes and percentages by opposition commentators and politicians is par for the course after another beating at the ballot box. Despite the media noise about a victory against Chávez the opposition has gained little in what can only be termed a pyrrhic victory or in plainer terms another sound defeat in 64% of the nominal electoral districts.

Nationwide the opposition won in four states – Tachira, Zulia, Anzoategui and Nueva Esparta and managed a “draw” in Miranda and Sucre states. The PSUV won in 17 states and drew in two. The small PPT party won in Amazonas. The country is still red from north to south and east to west.

Conclusions

In the last national referendum, held on term limits in February 2009, the government won with more than 6 million votes and the opposition managed 5 million. For the parliamentary elections the opposition increased its vote by 300,000 overall but the government supporters did not turn out in such massive numbers and so the government received 600,000 votes less.

The history of Venezuelan elections since 1998 has demonstrated over and over that when Chávez is directly involved, more chavistas go to the ballot boxes. We are certain that this would be the case if the opposition attempted a national referendum on Chávez’ mandate any time soon and it will be the case in the presidential elections in December 2012.

In the meantime, the seats won by opposition candidates on Sunday will lose some of their shine when the PSUV begins again to flex its revolutionary muscle in the new National Assembly on January 5th. The initial euphoria and false claims of the opposition, repeated ad nauseam in big western media will fade from the pages and TV screens of the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN and other network television.

The PSUV won by number of states, number of electoral districts, number of deputies and the popular vote. 

In the Upside Down World of the Venezuelan opposition’s attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, will ensure that Chávez will be President of the Bolivarian Republic at least until 2019.

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