Venezuelans Reject Main Parties in Vote against Corruption

Article excerpt

THE "cockroaches" held a victory dance in the streets of Caracas Sunday.

For the first time in 35 years of democratic elections, Venezuelans rejected the two major parties on Dec. 5, choosing a president from a hodgepodge coalition of left- and right-wing parties derisively dubbed the chiriperos or cockroaches.

The election of populist Rafael Caldera - for the second time in 25 years - is hailed as a reaffirmation of democracy in a nation rocked by military coup attempts and the impeachment of their last elected president.

"It reaffirms a democratic process in which the participation of the citizens liquidates vices, corruption, and fraud," said President Ramon Velasquez, who took over after Carlos Andres Perez was forced out of office earlier this year to stand trial on charges of misuse of state funds.

Mr. Caldera has promised economic and political reforms to address official corruption and the country's recession.

But he will have to move quickly, analysts say, because the election results do not reflect a mandate, and voters expect marked improvements in the economy in the next year.

Caldera, founder of the Social Christian party (COPEI), one of the two main parties, abandoned it prior to the poll, judging that Venezuelans were angry with the status quo.

"We've passed through one of the most difficult periods in history," Caldera told backers in a victory speech. "We are going to unite our efforts so that there is true democracy, not a corrupt and injust democracy. We will have a just democracy that serves the legitimate interests of the community and serves as an example for the other people of this continent."

Caldera, who was president from 1969-1974, promised to return this major oil-producing nation to more prosperous, peaceful times.

"He's an honest man, a strong leader who can show us the way out of this mess," shouted Alfredo Perez, a Caracas resident at the rally Sunday night.

Caldera's election is also seen as a rejection of the free-market reforms enacted by ousted President Perez. Venezuela's government derives some 60 percent of its budget from oil sales. As oil prices fell and the government deficit rose, Perez moved to cut subsidies and price controls. But the moves sparked street protests and two coup attempts.

While most of the 20 million Venezuelans tightened their belts, the perception grew that corrupt government and party leaders were skimming off the nation's oil wealth.

"Perez's economic plan was on the right track but he showed no political judgment. He didn't sell his program to the people," a Western diplomat here says. …

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