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Cablegate: Cne Rector Warns Assembly Elections Could Come As

VZCZCXRO2916
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHCV #1134/01 2392315
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 272315Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3632
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 001134

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPARTMENT PASS TO AID/OTI (RPORTER)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2029
TAGS: PGOV KDEM VE
SUBJECT: CNE RECTOR WARNS ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS COULD COME AS
EARLY AS NEXT SPRING
REF: CARACAS 01111
CARACAS 00001134 001.2 OF 002

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBIN D. MEYER,
FOR REASON 1.4(D)

1. (C) Summary: Vicente Diaz, one of the five rectors of
the National Electoral Council (CNE), met with Poloffs August
20 and speculated that President Chavez may call for National
Assembly (AN) elections as early as March 2010. Diaz, who is
the only rector not beholden to Chavez, suggested that this
timing would take advantage of the opposition's poor
organization and misguided focus -- effectively emulating the
timing strategy that helped Chavez win his February 2009
constitutional referendum. Diaz also warned that under the
recently passed Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPE)
(Reftel), the CNE is already positioned to begin exploiting
its new discretionary powers to the benefit of Chavez's
United Socialist Party of Venezuelan (PSUV) after its return
from summer vacation in mid-September. End Summary.

-------------------------
AN ELECTIONS NEXT SPRING?
-------------------------

2. (C) Vicente Diaz, the only political independent of the
five CNE rectors, warmly received Poloffs August 20 in his
office at the CNE. He theorized that Chavez could call for
AN elections as early as March 2010, although they are not
constitutionally mandated until that August. Diaz opined
that Chavez recognizes that legislative elections are
crucially important for maintaining his control over state
institutions since the AN oversees the selection and
appointments of the reigns of power, including the Attorney
General, the CNE rectors, and Supreme Court magistrates.
3. (C) Diaz noted that the opposition has spent the months
since the February 2009 constitutional referendum arguing
over the method for submitting AN candidates, rather than
working out a comprehensive list of unity candidates who
could actually win in each of their respective districts. He
speculated that Chavez might hope that convoking and holding
an election soon and with little advance notice would
capitalize on the opposition's disorganization, leaving them
once again unable to mount a coordinated electoral effort --
a strategy, according to Diaz, that worked for Chavez in
February. This timing would also take advantage of the fact
that many (opposition) Venezuelans are loathe to curtail
their annual December and January vacations to return to the
campaign trail, a point that Chavez successfully exploited in
the run-up to the February referendum.

-----------------
IMPLEMENTING LOPE
-----------------

4. (C) Diaz said that after the CNE returns from vacation
on September 15, it would begin creating a "pre-design" of
new electoral districts using its new authorities granted
under the LOPE to Gerrymander. He expects that a CNE
commission will be tasked with the specific goal of shifting
district boundaries for the 22 districts where the PSUV has
shown either precarious or little electoral success. Under
the LOPE, the CNE will also have full discretion in
regulating how campaigns can be run. In theory, electoral
campaigns should fall under Diaz's authorities as rector, but
he predicted that the other CNE rectors will vote to create a
new, Chavista-headed commission to oversee campaigns. Since
the LOPE requires that the CNE approve and review all
campaign publicity, Diaz assessed that this stipulation is
simply a thinly-veiled censorship tool. He also warned that
the LOPE does not discuss electoral observation missions,
which suggests that the CNE could choose not to permit
international missions until a day or two prior to balloting
-- if at all -- to shield them from an accurate assessment of
the pre-electoral playing field.

---------------------
CNE INTERNAL DYNAMICS
---------------------

5. (C) Diaz said that the other four Chavista rectors
frequently compete for control, reflecting a broader dynamic
of power struggles within Chavismo. He noted that he often
acts as a mediating "bridge" between them, since he can
deliver messages as a non-threatening observer. (Note:
Other electoral contacts have told us that there is a
CARACAS 00001134 002.2 OF 002
divisive power struggle between the rectors and staff who
answer to Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello, and
those who are beholden to Libertador municipality Mayor Jorge
Rodriguez; both men are close to Chavez. End Note.)
Nevertheless, Diaz said that his Chavista coworkers may be
friendly to him privately but will not, for example, go out
to lunch with him, lest they be accused as being
"infiltrated" by the opposition. When asked if any of the
rectors would consider a private meeting with Emboffs, Diaz
categorically rejected the idea. He noted that his term of
office does not expire until 2013, but two of the other
rectors' terms are up at the end of October. They can either
be re-elected or replaced, depending on the whims of the
executive.

6. (C) Diaz speculated that he has kept his job because "it
serves Chavez," drawing a parallel between his role and that
of opposition-oriented Globovision media outlet, which Chavez
has frequently threatened but thus far not closed. He
acknowledged, however, that he toes the line in not adopting
too visible a role as a Chavez opponent, commenting that
"there's a red line and if I cross it, they will remove me."
Diaz said that he prefers to be selective about which
government actions he considers egregious enough to publicly
denounce. (Note: The political opposition, in the past, has
commented that they often use Diaz as a guide, for example,
waiting for his public stance on specific election
controversies before taking their own position. End Note.)
As a result of his decision to often remain silent on what he
considers less flagrant abuses, Diaz quipped that he felt he
had been attacked more by the opposition than by the GBRV.
He added that while he believed the central government means
him no physical harm, he worries that radical Chavista
militants see him as a threat and a target and could act on
this misconception.

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (C) Diaz echoed what other political observers have
noted, that the opposition is taking a mistaken approach in
spending months arguing over philosophical process issues
rather than focusing their efforts on systematically
selecting unity candidates for AN elections who will be able
to win in their districts, regardless of their individual
opposition party affiliation. It would be a savvy move for
Chavez to hold elections early next year while the opposition
is unprepared, but it is also risky -- if he fails to retain
a dominant PSUV majority, then he would face a more hostile
legislature for the remainder of his term that is less likely
to rubber-stamp his legislative initiatives. Other observers
have predicted that Chavez will find a reason to delay AN
elections to coincide with presidential elections in 2012,
and will try to once again reframe the vote as a plebiscite
on Chavismo. Whatever the timing, the passage of LOPE grants
the Chavista-dominated CNE the discretion to maneuver the
electoral playing field and the balloting process to Chavez's
greatest advantage. End Comment.
DUDDY

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