Venezuela: Legislative Elections Seen as Key for Government, Opposition

Article excerpt

By Andrés Gaudín

Four months ahead of elections in which Venezuelans will choose the 167 members of the unicameral Asamblea Nacional (AN), society seems disconnected from an event that could definitively decide the future of the country, either by consolidating President Hugo Chávez's Revolución Bolivariana or by marking the resurgence of an opposition that remains disunited, weak, and without leadership or a common platform.

Nevertheless, the political parties are mobilized as never before and, for the first time in the democratic history of the country, they held primary elections to choose their candidates. However, the climate is not optimal for the unfolding of such a significant event.

The opposition alleges that its leaders suffer political persecution and has managed to get its allies outside the country to echo those allegations.

The ongoing drought, but also the lack of foresight, has forced the government to enact two deeply unpopular measures: water and electricity rationing (see NotiSur, 2010-02-12). It also took two other strictly economic steps that again brought confrontation with the opposition.

It moved forward with the process of nationalizing industries and expropriating lands. And, it decided to enforce a strict foreign-exchange control policy in an effort to prevent dollar speculation from fueling inflation, which in the first four months of 2010 reached 11.3% (see NotiSur, 2010-03-19). The administration and the opposition come to the elections from very different realities.

Lack of dialogue brings defections

"The Hugo Chávez administration's power in Venezuela does not have the same energy as it did before; the revolutionary process is going through a terrible moment," said an analysis on Radio Francia Internacional. The resignations of two governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) leaders, it said, spotlights the divisiveness among sectors that have led the political and economic changes in the last decade.

The French government-run station said that the Venezuelan government has lost strength and, although its influence continues to be powerful, "a certain social discontent is evident as the result of a deteriorating quality of life, which suggests that the government could lose ground in the Sept. 26 legislative elections."

The defection of Gov. Henri Falcón of the western state of Lara, and the resignation of PSUV vice president Gen. Alberto Müeller Rojas were two hard blows to the government's image, as even Chávez's closest collaborators acknowledge. Until last year, Müeller Rojas was an advisor to the armed forces general command, and he is (or was) a personal friend of the president.

Political analyst Margarita López Maya, a professor at the state Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and researcher with the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo (CENDES), says that a growing discontent exists within the Chávez administration, a result primarily of the lack of an exchange of ideas and space for dialogue. Both situations, says López Maya, "are a direct consequence of the concentration of power in the figure of Chávez, who rejects any opinions different from his."

López Maya, who has always sided with opposition sectors, said that "the economic recession and its repercussions in the poor electric and water services undermine the president's popularity, until now still positive. Such discontent extends even to the bases of the governing party, the PSUV, provoking a disparity between the ideals that brought Chávez to power and those that the movement now defends under the banner of '21st century socialism.'"

Chávez holds onto popularity despite problems

Throughout her analysis, López Maya recognizes the opposition's weaknesses and admits that the admiration that Chávez's figure elicits means that his popularity remains high, guaranteeing him a majority and a powerful leadership. …