Monday, November 24, 2008

The Venezuelan Elections

As reported in the Post, Sunday’s election in Venezuela produced big wins in a majority of governorships for allies of Hugo Chávez, who boasted (without a hint of sarcasm) that “the democratic path has been ratified." Nevertheless, the opposition secured a number of key posts, including the Caracas mayorship.

The election was seen as a test of Chávez's dominance in the oil-rich nation, which has been tested in recent months as rising crime, high inflation and food shortages have shaken faith in the man known to his followers as El Comandante. The president had vigorously campaigned for his candidates, knowing a big win would give him the political leverage to reform the constitution and stay in office past 2013, when his six-year term ends.

Pollsters had said that opposition candidates and dissident politicians who had broken with Chávez could take half a dozen states. But the opposition lost the state of Sucre, and dissident politicians lost in the largely rural states where they ran, including the president's home state of Barinas. "We've already won 17 governorships," the president said, flanked by supporters. "And until this moment, the opposition has won three governorships."

Opposition groups, though, celebrated wins in populous Caracas, where Henrique Capriles Radonski won the state government and Antonio Ledezma captured one of the biggest prizes, metropolitan Caracas. No one expected the opposition to take many states, but instead to threaten the president's hold in populous, economically diverse regions. "The most important states are where the most important battles are taking place, and the opposition could win," Pedro Nikken, a director of Electoral Eye, a monitoring group observing the elections, said earlier in the day.

…Opposition candidates said the potent state media shunned or maligned their campaigns while giving maximum exposure to government candidates. In recent days, Chávez also threatened to arrest a leading opposition leader, Zulia Gov. Manuel Rosales, and order tanks into the streets of Carabobo state. Luis Vicente León, a pollster for the Caracas polling firm Datanalisis, said the machinations and bluster demonstrate the importance of the vote to Chávez and the future of his socialist movement in Venezuela. Although Chávez loyalists control all but seven seats in the National Assembly, Leon said the president needs overwhelming electoral superiority across Venezuela to have the political capital to call for reforms to permit him to run for reelection.

…Polls have also shown that although overall support levels remain high, confidence that the government can resolve chronic problems, such as crime and Latin America's highest inflation rate, have fallen steadily from early in his presidency. The opposition maneuvered to exploit those concerns in urban areas, with politicians accusing government officials of having done little or nothing to resolve those and other problems.

No comments: