Based on a perceptive game of measurements and surveys, an attempt is being made to rearm Venezuela’s opposition leadership in the face of the presidential elections, with an evident intention of projecting María Corina Machado above the rest. This article deals with the reasons for this, its mechanisms and the environment of primaries, including the outsider climate.
A BIT OF RECENT HISTORY
At the end of last year, the traditional parties [now] grouped in the G3 (Democratic Action, A New Era and Justice First) definitively closed the now-defunct “Guaidó project.” The opposition universe once again experienced a collapse in mood, perhaps only comparable with the defeat of Henrique Capriles in 2013 against President Nicolás Maduro.
The depressive and demobilizing reflection of a new “we were almost there” moment this time came with the addition of completing a circuit of loss of confidence and a credibility crisis that reached the last missing actor: Leopoldo López’s party, Popular Will (VP).
The VP experiment had taken the lead of the anti-Chavista coalition from 2014 until the fake interim government bet. It relied on Henry Ramos Allup’s Democratic Action (AD), Manuel Rosales’ A New Era (UNT), which has not enjoyed a good image since the beginning of the century, and Capriles, who had lost traction with his two presidential defeats against Chavismo. VP did not emerge unscathed by starring in a string of failures from 2019 to 2022.
In the arc from Operation Freedom to Gideon and the corruption scandals in Monómeros, VP progressively lost the attribute that differentiated them, the source of their political wealth: not having failed miserably like the rest.
The end of last year confirmed, for the opposition sector, that VP was more of the same, as they assaulted the operations room of the “opposition unity” by openly attacking “moderates.” Meanwhile, they would subsequently participate in recent electoral events even though they had sworn never to do so.
The “legislative dynamics” of what was euphemistically called the “National Assembly of 2020” was totally illusory, having buried the “Guaidó project” a few days after the end of the year. However, it also contributed to the equally illusory premise of a new beginning in 2023 under the leadership of the remastered Unitary Platform of Venezuela, the name with which the G3 sought to reposition itself with the Mexico Talks as a backdrop.
The pretext to sell a new hope for internal harmony and reconstruction on healthy foundations was none other than the next presidential elections scheduled for 2024. Given the urgency imposed by political and electoral time, they organized a schedule of primaries to be held in October of this year, in which at least twenty pre-candidates have registered.
THE LIMITS OF THE SYMBOLIC
The problem of the opposition proposal is not one of method but rather the credibility of the figures that comprise it. Primaries, internal consultations or the election by consensus of a unitary candidate, an option considered at some point, do not alter the result.
Holding primaries where the same political referents always participate, marked by recent or past failures still fresh in the memory, only sharpens the perception that there are no ways of political and ideological renewal, of the course of action itself, in the short and medium term.
In addition, if internal disputes about whether or not the primaries should have the technical support of the National Electoral Council (CNE) are included, the attempt to draw a new horizon of opposition unity around a figure that would represent the general consensus of its fragmented universe ends before it begins, and even before the results.
In politics, every climate is artificial. Even when a specific perception of politics is based on real aspects, its representation and orientation depend on the intervention of weighty social agents: media, opinion leaders, pollsters, etc.
THE OUTSIDER CLIMATE AND ITS FALSE PREMISES
Amid the context of social disbelief towards the opposition political constellation, the bet to build a “renewal” bid within what already exists is directed towards María Corina Machado. The approach is difficult, almost an offense to the memory. But the calculation of some powerful media and business circles consider it to be their “better than nothing.”
Machado has 20 years of experience in Venezuelan politics, which includes her time at various foundations and NGOs, Súmate being the most representative due to its connections with the United States, before launching into formal politics. In 2010, she was elected as a deputy to the National Assembly. She also participated in the 2012 opposition primaries for the presidential candidacy, where she was in last place with only 3% of the votes.
Although the concept of the outsider is highly debated in political, media and academic spaces, there are certain general conditions to frame someone in this position. In general, an outsider refers to a disruptive figure, new to the landscape of traditional actors and who emerges from areas outside of politics in the strict sense: entertainment, business, sports, etc.
For someone to be an outsider, they must start from a peripheral political space, if not non-existent, so that their jump to a candidacy generates an effect of tension, polarization and dragging of support throughout the established political and ideological spectrum. On the other hand, an outsider should not be linked to previous government projects because that membership would present them as a factor identical to what is already known.
Logically, none of these characteristics corresponds to María Corina Machado, who not only has an extensive political career but has also contested primaries and won publicly elected positions. Her program of aggressive privatization and dismantling of the state is not a novel proposal that catches the Venezuelan population by surprise either.
THE PERCEPTUAL GAME OF SURVEYS
Several pollsters have been launching polls that place Machado first in voting intentions for the opposition primaries. Datoworld gives 20%, ConsuCampo Consultores 31%, Delphos 37.5%, More Consulting 36%, Datincorp 17% and Meganálisis 16%.
The same polls also give Benjamín Rausseo, known nationally for his comedy character “Er Conde del Guácharo,” in second place, relatively close or far, depending on the pollster, from Machado, who is the leader of Come Venezuela (VV).
The “general consensus” of the pollsters about a Machado at the forefront of the voting intentions is an artificial way of projecting that said hierarchy corresponds to the outsider that the electorate is looking for. On the other hand, that Rausseo is in second place in almost all pools reinforces this fabricated premise.
Such unwavering consistency of samples and results exposes an attempt to standardize public opinion in favor of Machado. VV is also attributed a power of unity and mobilization that has no basis in the daily practice of Machado’s political party. According to what can be seen in their public events, meetings and forced attempts at “mass events,” VV has scarce militancy and little territorial calling power.
Within this movement, a Rosales or a Capriles, the only two opposition figures who have challenged Chavismo for the presidency in its history, have benefited very little in the polls. Achieving that does not require any further manipulation, but at the same time, it shows a quantitative bias. In terms of machinery, one should consider the fact that Rosales was the opposition governor with the most votes in the last regional elections and that, even amid his deterioration, Capriles has just humiliated Carlos Ocariz and Juan Pablo Guanipa in Justice First’s (PJ) recent internal inquiry.
In both cases, symmetrically distributing eventual losers and winners, the pollsters try to configure a preference chart in which María Corina Machado and Rausseo, “representing” the outsider climate, stand out and carry out the self-fulfilling prophecy of a renewal of faces and leaderships. In this way, they condition the voters’ behavior and join a media push that, in the case of María Corina, is led by El País, Bloomberg and other mainstream media with a wide international reach.
Although the maneuvering through pollsters, media and subjectivities of public opinion has María Corina Machado as its horizon, the outsider question is neither exhausted nor should it be considered as concluded. Quite the contrary: the movement reflects that this range of possibilities is wide open, has a fragile composition and the evolution of the political situation itself, which could include as a definitive stagnation or resumption of the Mexico Talks, a greater escalation of the rivalry between pre-candidates, or the final resolution itself on the CNE’s eventual accompaniment, may cause a tectonic change in the field of aspirations and preferences.
As a publication from the Center for Political and Government Studies of the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB) reveals, the topic is part of the daily debate of advisors, political actors and opposition discussion events. It outlined that the outsider does not necessarily have to be a person but a group or government program with attractive ideas. This fabricated game of perceptions that fuels the search for an external referent to the opposition leadership’s failure in recent years could be incubating within the “civil society” front, even more so now that it has an uninterrupted flow of resources from the United States and the European Union, which can be launched to create an artificial picture of renewal and confidence.
Translated by Orinoco Tribune.