After Henrique Capriles Radonski lost the Venezuelan presidential
election to incumbent Hugo Chvez in October, Venezuela's opposition
was left reeling. But the party tried to look ahead.
"We lost one game," said Mr. Capriles, comforting a weary
electorate in a speech days after his defeat. "Our next game is for
the governors' elections."
Second chances can be hard to come by. But given the reportedly
fragile health of President Chvez, regional elections on Sunday are
taking on new immediacy. Capriles and the opposition leadership must
reassure the more than 6.5 million Venezuelans who cast their votes
against Chvez of the opposition's legitimacy. Not only are
governorship victories good for party morale, but if Chvez is unable
to attend his Jan. 10 inauguration as government official have
implied is a real possibility there is a chance the parties could
face off in a renewed fight for Venezuela's presidency.
"This is a trial by fire for the Democratic Unity Table (MUD),"
the political coalition that Capriles represents, says Elza Cardozo,
a professor of international studies at the Central University of
Venezuela. "Everything they manage to win is because they are
But the MUD isn't always cohesive. Its a fractious coalition of
parties that only banded together in 2008 in hopes of ending Mr.
Chvez's 14-year rule. Just weeks after the presidential loss, three
congressmen abandoned the party because of infighting.
Losing governorships on Sunday could further splinter the
coalition, jeopardizing its chances in future elections. And victory
won't be easy: The government is poised to win the majority of the
seats up for election. Capriles himself is up for reelection in one
Opposition governors currently control eight out of the 23 states
in Venezuela; however, Chvez was able to clinch the presidential
vote in all but two of the 23 states just two months ago.
Since taking office, Chvez has always been the motor of electoral
campaigns, stumping for his party's candidates and referendums. His
trademark charisma and sometimes marathon-length orations are often
cited as what carries his political party, the PSUV.
Yet, following his October victory, the typically outspoken
president has stepped back from the public eye.
Pollsters have speculated how Chvez's current absence coming
after numerous medical trips to Cuba for an undisclosed form of
cancer might benefit the opposition's chances in Sunday's state
elections expressly because the president was not tweeting out
endorsements or hitting the campaign trail on behalf of various
But Chvez's recent announcement that his cancer has returned and
the designation of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, a former trade
unionist and minister of foreign affairs, as his desired successor
has also resurrected the opposition's hopes for a political wave of
If Chvez is unable to attend his January inauguration, the
constitution dictates that another presidential election could be
less than two months away from now, in February. …