President Maduro says Venezuela's recent electoral results demand new approaches. But what problems fostered the electoral debacle? And what new programs for the future can do better? Hopefully a great many people will engage with these questions.
MUD's support rose to victory levels with some new voters added while retaining past voters and because PSUV votes declined due to both defections and abstentions. What caused the trends?
1. The PSUV's long run institutional vision has never been clarified and it is hard to remain steadfastly supportive or to become newly supportive without knowing what one is supporting. PSUV members and supporters should have been centrally involved in determining and conveying program and policies. Instead, a growing distance between the PSUV's inner sanctum and its base, plus an absence of clear direction drove abstention and defection. Lack of vision also meant few new supporters.
2. The PSUV's current program did not offset economic deprivations stemming from declining oil prices, exchange rate based corruption, shortages, and growing crime. Saying the cause of these ills was sabotage didn't shorten long lines, replace missing products, or curb fear.
3. On a trip to Caracas, I asked to see a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly pro MUD so I could see Bolivarian outreach occurring in those circumstances. I was told there was nothing to see because MUD areas of support in neighborhoods and on campuses were avoided by PSUV organizers. I was incredulous. While MUD used media, sabotage, and outreach to talk PSUV supporters into defecting, PSUV ignored MUD supporters.
In short, the PSUV suffered from absent vision and strategy, inadequate programs for addressing immediate economic and social deprivations, and inadequate outreach to those who weren't supportive. If that is right, then at the most simple level...
1. The PSUV needs to have clear and worthy aims that can inspire informed support and it needs to make its institutional goals known sufficiently that people can explain, defend, and offer refinements to them. Fearing that being explicit might alienate not yet serious supporters ignores that lacking clear vision alienates that group and one's serious supporters as well.
2. The PSUV needs a process of massive involvement of PSUV activists and even wider circuits of citizens throughout Venezuela to debate values and institutional aims both to provide a foundation to do 1, above, and to enrich and strengthen the links between PSUV core members, and the broad base beyond.
3. Economic suffering must be addressed, not just explained or bemoaned. This means the exchange rate and black market must be dealt with, but also that sabotage must be curtailed, corruption curbed, and the participation and well being of workers in their workplaces steadily expanded. Programs to these ends which also further the longer term aims of the Bolivarian project are essential. Letting these ills persist is simply suicide.
4. The PSUV needs to understand MUD supporters' just grievances, as well as their complaints that are ill motivated or confused, and to explicitly address them all, person to person as a priority. This would presumably require a massive campaign of outreach into the neighborhoods and campuses and other venues where MUD supporters reside, including really hearing their criticisms and being well equipped to seriously respond, not simply dismiss or denigrate.
Of course there is more areas for innovation – media policy, development of grass roots initiatives and organization, enlarging workers control everywhere possible, and so on.
But the defining themes seem evident. In fifteen years of having presidential power the Bolivarian revolution has lost rather than gained support in the larger population. This means the PSUV is not communicating, involving, debating, and addressing concerns and obstacles with effective policies. These are the places where change is needed.