Venezuela: Pieces for Analyzing Venezuela’s Election Results
Despite all the changes he made with respect to
electoral districts and number of legislators to be elected,
President Chávez didn’t get the victories he expected
in Venezuela’s recent parliamentary elections.
The results will have major consequences this year,
requiring continuing monitoring and analyses.
All of them will be of great interest in Nicaragua,
where Chávez’s influence on the Ortega government
is determinant. Here is a first brief analysis.
Venezuela’s reality after its elections for parliament on September 26, 2010, is a glass half full for some and a glass half empty for others. The results left Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Movement with a bitter taste even though the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)-Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) Alliance won nearly a hundred seats in the 165-member uni-cameral National Assembly. The opposition is enjoying a rather sweet taste, although it will now have to show that, among other things, the idea of coming together in a Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) represents much more than fleeting political interest.
The results caused alarm bells within the Bolivarian Movement because they brought a situation unprecedented in the past five years: failing to win the 110 seats needed to ensure an absolute majority, it will have to learn to negotiate—perhaps in a two-party system like those of some representative democracies?—in order to move forward in intensifying the Bolivarian revolution.
The Right is already moving against the achievements of the Bolivarian model and putting conditions on the introduction of new laws that would deepen the pending reforms of the country’s economic and cultural models. PSUV head Aristóbulo Istúriz believes that the Assembly will have the opportunity to debate “socialism versus capitalism” starting in January when its newly elected members take office.
President Hugo Chávez himself offered the first explanation of the situation to international journalists. “We won 98 representatives out of a total of 165. This is 59.4%, one deputy short of the first qualified majority [three-fifths]. The counterrevolutionary bloc won 65 representatives, 40% of the political seats. Homeland for All (PPT) [an independent center-left party that has been in and out of coalitions with the PSUV since its founding in 1997] got 2 representatives in Amazonas.”
He added that the PSUV won in 18 of the country’s 24 states and talked about the tied votes in the states of Miranda and Sucre. “We won in 56 of the 87 districts, i.e. 64%. They won in 30, i.e. 36%, and in the case of Amazonas, 1%.” The rightwing opposition parties have said repeatedly that they’re now the new majority. The President spoke to that saying, “If they believe they’re the majority, then let them call a recall referendum... Let them do it. Why wait two years?” President Chávez’s suggestion alludes to the upcoming presidential elections at the end of 2012.
Daily reality, particularly the administrative management of their local government and the candidates’ appeal, determined whether Venezuela’s citizens went to vote or preferred to stay home. The abstention rate was a little more than a quarter of the 17.5 million registered voters.
Looking at the big picture, two questions arise: Is class reconciliation possible? And is it possible to ignore the global chessboard, where Venezuelan oil and gas are viewed so fondly by the United States and other powers?
These elections changed the Venezuelan political panorama beyond their results. Now the country will move to a new, perhaps more conflictive stage virtually split in two. It has become one of the most prized pieces of the strategic global chess game in the greedy eyes of the principal world powers that are fighting for natural resources.
The PSUV controls the executive branch, a majority in the National Assembly, machinery capable of mobilizing millions and Armed Forces that are institutionally part of the Bolivarian process. On the other side are many fragmented parties whose only reference point is their opposition to Hugo Chávez and the dream of retaking the class privileges they had for decades.
Two-thirds of the Assembly [110 representatives] was needed “to consolidate our hegemony and weaken the old forces,” said Chávez. The alternative presages dangerous conflicts that could generate serious political destabilization and paralyze laws that strengthen people’s power and allow the building of a social economy contrary to the laws of the market. One should not forget that the National Assembly elects the Supreme Court justices and the officials of the National Elections Council and Citizens’ Power (Attorney General, Comptroller and Public Defender).
“We think it’s good that the opposition is participating in the General Assembly, because this was its natural place,”
said Roy Chaderton, elected PSUV representative to the Latin American Parliament and ambassador to the OAS. “What happened is that they pulled out in 2005, just hours before the electoral process opened, in an attempt to delegitimize the elections, hoping the US Marines would do their dirty work and replace President Chávez. He noted that this time the opposition won 20 representatives less than in 2000, adding that “maybe now they’ll stop their ongoing craziness and come participate in the democratic process.”
The emblematic María Corina Machado, a presidential hopeful who is a friend of George Bush and participated in the 2002 coup attempt, had a very different take. According to her, “Everything’s very clear. Venezuela said no to Cuban-style communism. Venezuela said yes to a path of democracy-building and now we have the legitimacy of the citizens’ votes. We are the people’s representatives.”
Luis Vicente León, director of the Datanálisis polling firm, emphasized that the opposition has a golden opportunity to consolidate its power. “It has been unable for a long time to show successes to encourage its followers and demonstrate that Chávez is beatable. The challenge now is to move from electoral organization to true political organization. So far the Democratic Unity Roundtable is a group organized for elections but without a common countrywide proposal.” Psychiatrist Axel Carriles, one of the ideological driving forces behind the opposition financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, expressed that “the important thing is to have attained a space of institutional power.”
It is said that there’s a real to-do in both the Miraflores Palace and the barrios. Three years ago, when the Bolivarian project failed in the constitutional referendum, there was talk of the three Rs (Revision, Rectification and Restarting) as immediate essential steps for continuing the revolutionary changes. But it never went beyond talk.
The upset is that these millions of citizens who went from being merely objects to being subjects of politics are now demanding greater participation, inclusion in the design of the plans. Their demands are to deepen democracy, clean up the corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in public administration, end insecurity and stop inflation.
For the masses that follow Chavez it’s not enough to stick to a discourse claiming that the national Right, with its support from other foreign governments and NGOs (mainly the US, Spain and Holland), is impeding the advances. Without a doubt, the election results have shown there’s a bill to pay for government inefficiency, ineffectiveness and corruption, the loss of quality of life and lack of a socialist culture that molds the new man and woman. Reality shows that the 80% of the population amply benefited by the Bolivarian government’s social measures doesn’t constitute a solid mass of support for the Bolivarian Revolution.
Journalist Martín Guédez says that to guarantee the Socialist Revolution it must be safe from the fears of the bourgeois electoral game. Meanwhile, his colleague Marcelo Colussi points out that one either builds socialism or continues with capitalism with a human face, as it’s impossible to have both at the same time, which would be a hybrid product. Colussi poses a further question: Is it possible to build socialism by seeking protection in the omnipresent figure of the President or is this an insurmountable limitation? Building socialism can’t be just a sea of red—red shirts ablaze with slogans—or the task of an apparatus or a party machinery. The PSUV can’t be a party and a government at the same time and maintain the nebulous differentiations among State, government and party.
Others are wondering about the reasons behind the sustained drop in the Bolivarian vote. They believe that the negative response is the petite-bourgeois ideology that has held sway since the coup was put down in April. This ideology proposes a mixture of capitalism and socialism, which economically keeps capitalism fragmented and socially disperses organizing efforts.
Writer-politician Antonio Aponte believes certain measures must be taken: preserve Chávez’s leadership; avoid unleashing a witch hunt that would hinder the work of adjusting the course and reduce faults to mere bad personal shortcomings; and profoundly correct the course, reversing the eroding trend, which is still possible due to Chávez’s strong personal connection with the people.
One can’t disregard the possibility of new economic adjustments that would inevitably mean a lower standard of living for the majority. That would create a problem in ensuring that Hugo Chávez, even with all his charisma, would win the 2012 elections. So far the opposition doesn’t have a candidate to run against the Bolivarian leader.
The election results express a trend that started in 2007, in which it can be seen that citizens have acted differently when the position of President is at stake. When it had to do with the recall referendum, the presidential election or the recent amendment to permit continual reelection, Venezuelans participated massively and the voting was 6-4 in favor of the Chávez option. The same was true of the first election in December 1998. But when it comes to electing legislators, governors and municipal mayors, the tendency is more dispersed.
In the last elections for governor in 2008, opposition candidates were elected in the Capital District and in the states of Zulia, Miranda, Lara, Carabobo, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta and Táchira, which have the most populous cities. In the parliamentary elections the PSUV was able to re-take the capital, Lara and Carabobo, winning the majority of seats in dispute. In other cases, the opposition’s favorable tendency has been repeated and widened. For example, in the state of Zulia the opposition took 13 of the 15 possible legislative seats. While the opposition leans towards the convergence that led to the United Democratic Roundtable as an electoral movement, the groups in the “revolutionary” coalition will start dispersing as time passes.
It would seem logical that the opposition would want to change the more than 150 laws passed between 2001 and 2006 by a monolithic Assembly that reformulated the regulations for regional power, taking budgets and operating powers away from the governing bodies and mayors to hand them over to the community organizations.
Although many think the opposition’s plan A is still destabilization and a coup, its electoral participation stems from understanding that a military-civil coup isn’t within their reach. The dream of some opposition leaders is that winning a third of the seats in the National Assembly will allow it to bring about a destabilizing situation similar to the one Honduran President Manuel Zelaya suffered in June of this year. Though the two countries have very different national realities, the fear is that such a situation would soon result in a visit by the Marines, i.e. a US military invasion, with or without an excuse.
Clearly a weakening of the Chávez movement, along with the fall in oil prices, would hamper its integrationist plans throughout Latin America, whether the Banco del Sur or the oil and gas pipelines or the bilateral businesses. It would also affect the move toward using the sucre as the only exchange currency among the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) [sucre stands for the Single Regional Compensation System, adopted two years ago as a common accounting unit for use by the now eight ALBA members with plans to replace the US dollar for trade among them], ALBA’s support to the small Caribbean and Central American countries and the construction of UNASUR [the South American United Nations, thus far ratified by seven of the twelve South American nations, two short of the minimum needed to go into effect. Still to sign are Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Surinam and Uruguay].
What is at issue in Venezuela today is the need for more democracy. This means a decisive mobilization and participation of the great majorities, who have already become social actors but are still far from being the protagonists of the country’s destiny. The challenge is to build socialism from below where those majorities are in motion. The only thing being built from above is a hole.
Aram Aharonian is a Uruguyan-Venezuelan journalist, teacher, founder of the New Television Station of the South (TELESUR), a pan-Latin American land and satellite tV network headquartered in Caracas; and director of the Latin American Observatory in Communication and Democracy (ULAC).