Venezuela Election Checks Power of Hugo Chavez

Article excerpt

The Venezuela election on Sunday saw the political opposition gain more than one-third of seats in legislature, enough to stymie Hugo Chavez's future initiatives.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have to learn to negotiate with opposition parties that he recently pledged to "pulverize." Sunday's elections saw his political opponents win more than 50 percent of the popular vote and more than one-third of seats in the country's legislature.

"The legislature can now can begin to debate," said Miguel Octavio, who writes the anti-Chavez blog "The Devil's Excrement," after the initial results were released at 2 a.m. "They can't approve anything important without opposition votes."

Since opposition parties boycotted the last elections, in 2005, the 165-seat legislature has been controlled by lawmakers friendly to Mr. Chavez, most of whom joined the new United Socialist Party, or PSUV. PSUV deputies gave Chavez the green light to eliminate presidential term limits, create citizen militias, nationalize entire industries, and exchange oil for Cuban expertise.

Chavez as recently as Sunday said the PSUV should "accelerate the crushing and demolition" of the opposition, and set a goal of keeping two-thirds of the legislature in friendly hands to keep the opposition from blocking appointments of top officials and opening investigations.

Failure to reach that threshold did not stop Chavez from claiming victory, however. "We've obtained a solid victory," Chavez wrote early Monday morning on Twitter. "We must keep strengthening the revolution. A new victory of the people. I congratulate everyone."

Both sides have called for the country to accept the results, and the capital of Caracas was tranquil Monday as citizens commuted to work.

The opposition got 52 percent of the popular vote, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, head of the opposition campaign, said in a televised press conference. PSUV candidates won at least 58 percent of the legislature - or 90 seats - because of the way election rules distributed the seats. Such rules don't apply in the 2012 presidential election, meaning that the PSUV will need more votes to keep power.

For the fractured opposition, gaining a minority of the seats is part of a years-long process of recovery. …

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