The Opposition’s Mobilization Strategy: Operación Avalancha

By: Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

The surprisingly close results of the April 14th presidential election may, at least in part,be explained by an improved mobilization strategy of the opposition.

We have argued before on this blog that the mobilization strategy of pro-government parties on election days, especially the PSUV, has proven far superior to the opposition’s. On October 7th, Election Day last year, as afternoon rumors spoke of high participation levels by the opposition, the PSUV launched its Operación Remate (operation mop-up), a get-out-the vote effort before the polls closed. The strategy included the use of hundreds of volunteer motorcyles that took voters to the polls, and, according to the opposition, the use of official government and armed forces vehicles for that same purpose. The opposition did not seem to have an equivalent strategy in place for October 7th, and as the afternoon progressed, inside sources from the situation room of opposition party Primero Justicia told us that “our transport volunteers and motorcycles that were supposed to go to the centers and take food to our witnesses started to bail out, some just turned off their cell phones.”

Last Sunday the situation was somewhat different. For sure, the government activated its efficient mobilization machine as in previous elections. As before, the Operación Remate also mobilized many supporters to the polls (it is notable that, at least until now, the opposition has not claimed that military vehicles were used; such claims could surface later as the opposition makes its case on electoral abuses). But this time the opposition showed that it could also put together an efficient mobilization machine. At 1:00 pm, right after voting, Capriles addressed the media and a small group of supporters outside the voting center and called for the Operación Avalancha, the opposition´s name for its afternoon mobilization effort. The phrase rapidly became a top trend on twitter, and even PSUV leaders felt compelled to comment on it. Diosdado Cabello for example tweeted around midafternoon: “The Right’s Operación Avalancha seems to be melting away.” Hundreds of messages of individual opposition supporters started to show up on social media sites offering to drive people to voting centers. The messages usually included the area were the volunteer was available and a mobile phone number, showing a high level of commitment from these volunteers, given citizens’ common concerns over insecurity in Venezuela.

The more formal organizational apparatus of the opposition also proved more resilient this time. Whereas on October 7th the situational room of Primero Justicia was being emptied by around 7:00 pm and staff was being sent home, our source tells us that this time the room remained operational 24 hours around the clock, at least until Tuesday, receiving and processing calls and messages of denunciations of electoral irregularities. On October 7th there also were complaints of opposition voting center witnesses not showing up or leaving early. By contrast, this time the opposition witnesses appeared to have been in place. They were aided by opposition supporters who, in contrast to previous elections, were asked by opposition leaders to stay outside their voting centers to “protect the votes.”

As we have argued in this blog, it is hard to tell if these afternoon get-out-the-vote operations by the campaign camps make a significant difference in the final turn out (participation levels were roughly the same on October 7, 2012, and April 14, 2013). Nevertheless, for the opposition they do suggest a stronger organizational muscle that had not been shown before and could prove significant in the future.