Sunday, December 03, 2006

The boy who cried fraud

In corrupt countries like Mexico and Venezuela, it is assumed that there will be electoral fraud no matter what.
Why? Because in countries where nobody abides by the law, it is easy to distrust the system. The system itself is tainted and the possibility of people believing in their own institutions is slim, if not nil. This is what happened in Mexico recently, with the very narrow win of Felipe Calderón. His party did use campaign tactics which are illegal in Mexico, which is why many of his opponents cried fraud. To me, electoral fraud is more narrowly defined, as illegal tactics committed at the voting booths, but I can understand why so many think the PAN stole the election. Still, there was no fraud at the voting booths themselves and the outcome should be respected. As I've said before, the opposition has six years to prepare its campaign and win next time by legitimate, democratic tactics, not by tantrum.
Today is election day in Venezuela, which most media expects Hugo Chavez to win by a good margin, because he has the support of the majority, which happens to be the poor. However, the opposition (mostly the middle class and the rich) has been crying fraud before the elections even started. My bet is that Chavez does not need to resort to fraud to win this election. The economy has improved, and he has established a lot of programs for the poor. Yes, crime and corruption are rampant and it is inexcusable that with the oil profits Venezuela is enjoying now, there are still huge gaps, and the state is not providing certain basic services like law and order or good roads or more jobs. It is also inexcusable that Chavez gives heating fuel to the people in the Bronx and neglects those at home.
Still, if the majority likes him, he will win again fair and square. The fear is that the opposition will accept this outcome.
Apparently, the US has a new method of influencing elections by conducting aggressive marketing campaigns and creating polls that give the impression that the opposition is broader and stronger than it actually is. This worked to a certain extent in Mexico, where Calderón had a very smart campaign against AMLO (basically, they compared him to Chavez to scare the hell out of people). This is happening in Venezuela, where I hear that Rosales, the opposition candidate, is a non-entity and a disgrace but he is the best that the opposition in Venezuela can come up with, which is rather pathetic considering how they have all the means at their disposal: the blanket, shrill endorsement of the private media and all the money in the world. Polls have him narrowing Chavez margins, but they are not very reliable.
I don't like Chavez (although I think he is charming in a roguish kind of way). But if he wins the majority vote cleanly, the opposition will have to accept it and try to find someone better equipped to challenge the hugely popular Chavez next time. People are afraid of violence, and in Caracas they are bracing for a crisis, stocking up on supplies and thinking of not showing up for work tomorrow and Tuesday. Hopefully, there will be a strong oppostition vote to send a message to Chavez to tone down his radical rhetoric and deal with the very legitimate discontent of many. Hopefully, whatever the outcome, it will be peaceful.

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