On the week of 1 to 5 October 2012, both presidential candidates, incumbent Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, brought their respective campaigns to a close in front of tens of thousands of supporters. Both celebrated the closure in various locations throughout the week, with Capriles’ final act taking place in the western city of Barquisimeto and Chavez’s on Caracas’ main avenues. With just hours remaining before the 7 October 2012 vote, there remains great uncertainty regarding the outcome. Most polls taken at the beginning of August 2012 gave Chávez at least a 10-point lead, and a couple gave Capriles a narrow margin of victory. Nevertheless, the tendency in those polls was clear: Capriles’ star was on the rise, while Chavez’s was stagnant at best.
Venezuelan law bars the publishing of polls a week before an election. However, on 4 October 2012, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, polling firm Consultores21 informed Barclays Plc. of the results of a poll taken between 27 September and 2 October 2012, forecasting a nearly 5 percent lead for Capriles with 51.8 percent of voter intent compared with 47.2 percent for Chávez. Given the aforementioned tendency, it is imaginable or even probable that Capriles might have actually closed the gap with his opponent.
It is thus significant that, based on these results, Barclays analysts Javier Arreaza and Jaime Grisanti announced on 5 October 2012 that it is “likely” that Chávez would lose the elections. The Bank stands behind this position, maintaining a “buy” recommendation on Venezuelan government bonds and those of PDVSA. As to the reliability of the polling data, the analysts wrote that Consultores21 has had “a long track record” of predicting both the winner and also the margin of victory of Venezuelan elections.
This in itself is a telling move: JPMorgan Chase & Co. stated last week that PDVSA and the Venezuelan government were both at risk for a debt default in late 2013, when around US$4 billion in debt payments are due. Given the suspicious nature of recent gold sales and the great amount of speculation they generated regarding the state’s liquidity, it is interesting to note that Barclays would still advise its clients to buy Venezuelan bonds. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analyst Francisco Rodríguez maintained his stance that President Chávez will most likely win reelection come Sunday, but reduced the margin to single digits.
Whether Barclays is prudent in foreseeing a Capriles victory will be determined in just a few hours. Elections have been won and lost in a week’s span. The question is no longer whether Capriles can gather more votes; it seems to have become more a question of what Chavez and his political machine might do if they face voting trends favoring the opposition candidate. It is impossible to overlook the fact that all state institutions related to the elections are in Chavez’s hands: the military, which provides security and guards the ballots through Plan República; the National Electoral Council, where 4 out of 5 of its members are considered to be aligned with the President; the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, and the State news agency … Capriles has rightly characterized his campaign as a David vs. Goliath battle.
The only thing left for Capriles to do is to patiently await the vote and count on the more than 14,000 opposition “witnesses” that will remain in the voting centers fiscalizing the vote. They are in many respects the last safeguard against foul play by government authorities. Whether this mountain of adversity can be overcome on 7 October 2012 we do not know with certainty. However, two things are clear: that the vote promises to be closer than anticipated, and it might not be the only deciding factor in these elections.
Paul Cortes Ruiz