Six More Years for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
Venezuelans decided on Oct. 7 by an overwhelming majority that Hugo Chavez would continue in the presidency for another six years. The governing party won in 22 of the country's 24 states. The opposition, besides losing its hope for the presidency, lost three of the five states that it had controlled, including Miranda, where the last elected governor was Henrique Capriles, Chavez's opponent in this election.
When the next presidential elections are held in 2019, the leader of the Revolucion Boliviariana will be 64 years old and will have been president for 19 years. The elections, in which Chavez defeated the Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD) candidate by more than 11 percentage points, were the first in the Bolivarian era in which the opposition attempted to set aside its jealousies, ambitions, and grudges to defeat the president.
In the next six years, Chavez's project for "21st century socialism" (NotiSur, Jan. 26, 2007), ratified democratically at the ballot box, will have some debts to pay that its own backers admit are urgent --inflation and insecurity, among others. However, the challenges ahead could be even greater for Capriles if he tries to hold onto his position as opposition leader, unaltered and without internal competition, until the 2019 elections.
Huge turnout gives Chavez strong mandate
Until two days before the elections, when the ban on campaigning went into effect, Chavez said that his goal was to obtain 10 million votes, an impossibility in a country of 19 million registered voters and a participation level that never surpassed 65% (some 12 million voters). It was merely campaign rhetoric aimed at bolstering the optimism of his followers. Chavez did, however, receive more than 8.5 million votes, allowing him, as never before, to legitimize his mandate, which will begin in January 2013.
This is, first and foremost, because Chavez faced a united opposition for the first time and especially because almost 81% of eligible voters went to the polls, a record for a country in which voting is optional. While this level of citizen commitment brought worldwide praise, most important for the Revolucion Boliviariana is that even its enemies recognized that Venezuela has a fully functioning democratic system.
"It is impossible to challenge this election. The automated voting system is unique on our continent, and perhaps in the world, and does not allow the possibility of fraud," said rightist Argentina Deputy Gabriela Michetti, who was invited to Venezuela by the opposition to be an observer.
Dire predictions fail to materialize
During the month before election day, the future appeared bleak. The candidates missed no opportunity to disparage their opponents, and the national and foreign media--which had become, as in the rest of South America, ideologues for the opposition--warned of "electoral violence." They blamed the government for whatever might occur, said that electoral fraud was underway, and, as a consequence, anticipated days of rage. The media refocused on the health of Chavez, who has undergone treatment for cancer (which, judging from his physical stamina during the campaign, appears to be in remission).
During that "anything-goes" effort against the Venezuelan administration, on Sept. 16, Christopher Toothaker, a correspondent for the Associated Press, wrote of the president's "mysterious cancer." He did this within a lengthy article aimed at informing readers about the electorate's "uneasiness" that Chavez did not have a running mate when his death during his next term is a real possibility. The journalist did note that Capriles also did not have a running mate; the Venezuelan Constitution does not provide for a vice president, which is an unelected position filled only after an election and by direct designation of the president, as if it were a Cabinet ministry position. In his 13 years as president, Chavez has had seven vice presidents. …