By Jeniree Vasquez
The U.S. presidential campaign season is rapidly taking on the political coloration of what can be expected from the low-grade ideological polemics that form the bulk of the political outcomes in Venezuela.
Simply put, the obvious lack of worth and the unrelieved meretricious nature of the script being used should come as no surprise. Scandals may come to light, candidates may decide to withdraw, and public opinion polls may dramatically shift at any time. Generally, however, the most explosive turnovers in popularity are precipitated not so much by policy maturations or bursts of brilliance or striking illuminations born out of Lincoln-Douglas like debates. What is all but guaranteed is the inevitable evolution of new political alignments that occur as candidates abandon the race and throw in the towel as they support at once despised political foe. This was amply demonstrated several days ago in Venezuela, where the opposition’s contest is in the home stretch prior to the February 12 primary targeted at selecting a unified opposition candidate to run against incumbent President Hugo Chávez in next October’s general elections.
Several days ago, the presidential pre-candidates for the opposition – Diego Arria, Maria Corina Machado, Henrique Capriles, Pablo Perez, Pablo Medina and Leopoldo Lopez participated in a debate that was broadcast by the conservative news channel Globovisión, in which they discussed, among other things, a new political map for the country. Nevertheless, the highlight of the evening was not the debate itself but the not unexpected announcement by Mr. Leopoldo Lopez that he was withdrawing from the race.
Lopez apparently had decided to re-cast himself as a vice-presidential candidate alongside a Capriles Radonski presidency. This decision, creating a new political alliance referred to by
Lopez as “The Unit” should bring Lopez’s supporters into Capriles Radonski’s camp by the bucket, as well as somewhat improves their existing still modest prospect of a victory on October 7.
On the Venezuelan political scene, Lopez is known for being sociable and well-intentioned. In addition, having served from 2000 to 2008 as the mayor of Chacao, a middle-class community a solid opposition base, Lopez can offer the Capriles camp his relative popularity as well as favorable name recognition.
A Capriles-Lopez partnership presents the very real possibility of winning the support of an expanded opposition with such alliance partners like Acción Democrática (AD), Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and Copei, aside from the legendary corruption with which these political parties were traditionally associated, Their merger could provide a new possibility to win over at least part of the population that normally would support the current president Hugo Chávez, but now may be wavering.
While Venezuela is still preparing for the primary ballot, in a few days time, Capriles already was well ahead the polls, according to Datanalisis, Capriles is maintaining a 38.5 percent lead over his closest challenger, among decided voters. Lopez’s decision serve to further bolster Caprile’s prospects, and could turn out to be the definitive move in consolidating opposition efforts to finally topple Hugo Chávez, which remains no easy task.
Nevertheless, one would be overly hasty to suspend disbelief that Chávez could be effortlessly toppled by stratagems alone. The raw numbers still seem to remain in his favor and the fact that he has displayed an almost absolute wizardry in the past defending his presidential redoubt, has to mean something.
Jeniree Vasquez is a Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs