Venezuela Prepares for Watershed Presidential Elections Sunday Because of Attempted Military Coups and Backlash to Economic Reform, Vote Is Seen as the Most Important in Three Decades
David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
VENEZUELA is a nation profoundly shaken.
Its two most recent presidents are under indictment. Two military coups were narrowly aborted last year. And after three years of soaring growth, the economy is in a tailspin.
On Sunday, Venezuelans will have a chance to change the fate of this major oil-producing nation. They will vote for a new president and congress in what may be the most important elections in the last three decades of democracy here.
"This is a monumental election. At stake is the political and economic system," says Rita Funaro at VenEconomy, a Caracas-based economic consulting firm.
"Many people saw the coup leaders as heroes. Now they're saying, `Let's give democracy one last chance,' " she adds.
Venezuelans want a change. And for the first time since Venezuela opted for a democratic path in 1958, the candidates of the two dominant political parties are not leading the polls. "Depending on who wins ... the country could be on the brink of a true multiparty democracy, a protectionist economy, or a military coup," an analyst says.
"The common motivational factor in Venezuelan society is for a profound change of reality; political changes, economic changes, and social changes," says a study by Consultores 21, a Caracas-based political and economic analysis firm. Out with corruption
With the removal of President Carlos Andres Perez last year under charges of malfeasance, 65 percent of Venezuelans surveyed by Consultores 21 say they reject what Mr. Andres Perez represents to them:corruption, rule by party elite, and economic reforms.
Corrupt government leadership has become the symbol for all the woes suffered by Venezuelans in recent years. "Corruption is seen as the explanation for lack of well being, injustice, poverty, low salaries, rising living costs, and crime," the Consultores 21 report says.
On a central Caracas thoroughfare restricted to pedestrians, comments like those of Felipe Ramirez, a retired oil worker, are common: "After 30 years of democracy and so much oil money, why have we accomplished so little? Where did all the money go?"
The anti-establishment candidate with a small but consistent lead in the polls is 77-year-old ex-President Rafael Caldera Rodriguez. Portraying himself as an "honest man," Mr. Caldera has turned from the Social Christian (Copei) party he helped found, and from his conservative roots, to become the populist leader of a coalition of smaller left- and right-wing parties.
Caldera opposes the free-market reforms of Andres Perez. He supports more state control, less-decentralization of power, and favors privatization only on "a case-by-case" basis. …