Many voting stations across Venezuela were eerily quiet during
Sunday's congressional elections as allies of President Hugo Chavez
gained almost complete control over the country's national assembly
in a landslide victory.
Mr. Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) says progovernment
parties have won all 167 seats in the assembly, with MVR winning
114, far surpassing the two-thirds majority needed to fast-track any
legislation. Critics worry that Chavez may use his strengthened
position to do away with presidential term limits.
But five opposition parties boycotted the vote, claiming that the
nation's electoral authority was biased toward Chavez's allies. And
fewer than 25 percent of registered voters participated in the
elections, leading some critics and analysts to say there is a
crisis of legitimacy.
Carlos Albrizzio, director of one of several voting centers in
the opposition-dominated Caracas neighborhood of Altamira, called
the elections "a failure," saying as polls closed that only 5
percent of his center's registered voters had participated.
"These people don't trust the system," he said. "They don't want
to support it with their vote."
Caracas-based pollster Alfredo Keller says the low turnout raises
questions of Chavez's standing. "It isn't clear that Chavez has the
power over the people that he says he has," he comments.
The high abstention rate and expected dominance of progovernment
parties in the national assembly could also hurt Venezuela's
legitimacy in the international community.
"With this vote, it will be easier to say that Chavez is pulling
all the strings in Venezuela," says Miles Frechette, international
consultant and former political counselor for the US Embassy in
"It's becoming a one-party state and that's problematic," says
Prof. Eduardo Gamarra, director of Latin American studies at Florida
International University. But Mr. Gamarra also said that low voter
turnout did not make an election illegitimate, pointing out that
midterm elections in the United States often see high abstention
rates as well.
But the government and its supporters claim the opposition
parties boycotted the vote because the they knew they would lose.
"They came to the fight and left when they saw that the enemy was
bigger," said Chavez supporter and housewife Chrislaine Sael after
voting for progovernment deputies.
"The legitimacy of this electoral process is not in question,"
says Ricardo Gutierrez, progovernment deputy and vice president of
the national assembly, noting that congressional elections often see
low participation. …