Venezuelan Legislative Elections Rein in President Hugo Chavez's Power

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, October 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Venezuelan Legislative Elections Rein in President Hugo Chavez's Power


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


Venezuela held legislative elections on Sept. 26 that both the administration of President Hugo Chavez and the fragmented opposition, united under a fragile umbrella coalition, the Mesa de Unidad Democratico (MUD), considered decisive for the future of the country. The governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) treated the democratic exercise as if it were a plebiscite and put all its effort into winning an absolute majority --two-thirds of the 165 seats in the unicameral Asamblea Nacional (AN)--which would have allowed it to continue governing without the need to consult or cut deals with any other sector. The opposition accepted the challenge and set it sights on obtaining at least half plus one of the seats. Neither side met its most ambitious goal.

Since, after the voting, both sides spoke of winners and losers, all partisan analyses looked at the elections using the philosophical question, "Is saying the glass is half full the same as saying it is half empty?" On the surface, it would seem to be the same, but the cleverness of the question is that it leaves open the possibility of a dual reading, in this case, of the final election results.

Measured by voting blocs in the legislature, the tally gave the PSUV 98 seats, the MUD 62, and the small Patria para Todos (PPT), a leftist splinter group, two. The three remaining seats are reserved for indigenous groups, which in the last Constitution gained the right to elect their own representatives. In numbers of votes, the PSUV obtained 5.5 million (48.19%), excluding the indigenous, who usually vote with the PSUV, and the two other groups together took 5.4 million (47.16%).

Governing party comes out ahead

A preliminary observation makes it clear that the future--apart from any effects of governmental actions in the two years remaining until the presidential elections--is favorable for the administration. It counts on a powerful party apparatus and, above all, on a leadership--that of the president--whose deep roots surprise analysts and the international press and even its severest critics. Chavez is loved, especially among the long-neglected sectors of Venezuelan society, and the PSUV has a clear government program.

The opposition's situation is very different. The MUD's 23 member groups, contrary to what their name implies, have been unable to develop a unified platform and lack a charismatic leader to rally around. The day after the elections, the names of three opposition leaders were being touted to challenge Chavez in the Dec. 2, 2012, presidential elections.

"Few things could have hit the electorate as badly," analyst Federico Welsch, professor of political science at the state Universidad Simon Bolivar, was quoted as saying in La Nacion newspaper.

"For now, the opposition continues demonstrating that it is united only in its hatred of Chavez, expressed especially among the well-off middle class and the economically dominant group," wrote political commentator and Uruguayan Sen. Constanza Moreira in the Uruguayan daily La Republica.

The administration never admitted it, but, in the hours following the election, it took the failure to win a two-thirds majority--the "magic number" that would have allowed Chavez to govern while ignoring the opposition--as a defeat. Later, and within the framework that speaks of a glass half full or half empty, it accepted the ballot-box reality and celebrated the results.

"We did not obtain the ambitious goal of two-thirds, but we achieved a very important victory. Never has a Venezuelan party obtained 60% of the legislative seats competing alone against 23 opposition parties," said Vice President Elias Jaua.

PSUV vice president Aristobulo Isturiz said, "The election result is a triumph for the Revolucion Bolivariana, which after 10 years was able to win a sizeable majority of 30 deputies against the combined forces of the opposition, the deserters [referring to the PPT], and the most recalcitrant right. …

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Venezuelan Legislative Elections Rein in President Hugo Chavez's Power
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