Revolution elected

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has been confirmed in office for another six years

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez drove up to the polls in Caracas on Sunday morning, driving a bright red VW cafe and visibly in a good mood. Hundreds of supporters and foreign guests awaited the head of state in the 23 de Enero district, a stronghold of the revolution "Bolivarian Revolution", which was confirmed by a clear majority on Sunday. With a lead of three million votes, about 25 percentage points, the head of state could prevail at the end of the day. More than his supporters, it is now clear to his opponents that there is no way around Chavez.

Revolution elected

Hugo Chavez already confident of victory after casting his vote. Picture: abr.info.ve

The reaction of the opposition around the social democrat Manuel Rosales was eagerly awaited. In the days and weeks leading up to the election, some of its allies had repeatedly stated that they would not recognize an election victory by the incumbent (Orange Revolution in Caracas?).

Accordingly, the mood in Caracas was tense on Sunday afternoon, when members of Rosales’ election team began, "Significant irregularities" to complain. The candidate reported on private television that the voting machines had malfunctioned when votes were cast for him. A few hours later, there was no longer any talk of all that. "I recognize the election", the governor of the northwestern state of Zulia declared around 10 p.m.

Uncomplicated election process prevents protests

The decision was apparently preceded by a dispute over the direction of the party alliance around Rosales. With his surprising admission of defeat, he abruptly ended this debate, but provoked disappointed and angry reactions in front of the cameras, even including crude insults.

The government and opposition were clear that Rosales’ statement put an end to any plans for protests against alleged electoral fraud. Parts of the opposition had carefully prepared such an approach by making their supporters believe that Rosales was in the lead by obviously unrealistic election predictions. Because a victory of the other side can only come about through electoral fraud, protests are necessary. The fact that Rosales did not play this game was the real surprise of the election night.

In his campaign headquarters, the split in the opposition was evident on election night. Julio Borges, the leader of the right-wing populist Primero Justicia party, which had played a leading role in the April 2002 coup, had not been seen there since that afternoon.

However, it was not only the decision of the opposition candidate, but also the electoral system that contributed to the state of affairs. For the first time, voting machines from the Smartmatic company were used in the most important states as part of an electoral process that was hardly contestable. After casting their vote, which was digitally stored in the machine and printed on paper at the same time, the voters received a second document with which they could check their vote. They put this expression in a ballot box. Finally, each voter was identified by means of a voting list of the establishment in which he was registered, and had to confirm his participation by signature. Representatives of the government and opposition were present in the majority of polling stations. These witnesses checked the number of participants and the legitimacy of the process. The functionality of the system was also confirmed to the international observers of four missions.

Revolution elected

Chavez supporters celebrate election victory. Picture: abr.info.ve

Challenges on both sides

After a series of strategic mistakes, the Venezuelan opposition faces a difficult situation. Because the radical parts had enforced a boycott of the parliamentary elections last December (landslide or Pyrrhic victory?), the government’s opponents are not represented in parliament for the time being. The loss of prestige also weighs heavily, because the outcome of the vote revealed not only the balance of power, but also the manipulation of the polls. Although Rosales announced on the evening of the election that he would continue to fight for a majority. But with an unstable and in part discredited party alliance, this will hardly be possible. In his state of Zulia, he will also face a referendum on voting out of office.

But the government also faces serious challenges. Chavez’s party "Fifth Republic Movement" (MVR) is so far part of a parliamentary alliance of convenience. Even before the election, the president and other high-ranking members of the government announced the formation of a unity party of the government camp.

The request is also the result of prere from the grassroots, because there is sometimes a wide gap between the aspirations and the reality of the Bolivarian process in Venezuela. Although the democratic participation of the population is now guaranteed by district councils and a number of instruments for direct influence, the government has not yet been able to exercise this influence. However, the principle of participatory democracy has not yet spread to the political parties. Junior partners such as Patria Para Todos are accused of trying to control the political process from above, also in order to sit at the state table. The day after the election, as announced, a debate on corruption began.

The fact that the government is serious about the rules it has set, even within its own ranks, became apparent on Monday. Prior to the vote, the National Electoral Council had strongly threatened sanctions against the anti-government private television stations if results were announced in advance on election night. In the end, it was the international television station Telesur (Medial Gegenmacht), co-founded by the Venezuelan government, that broke the rules. An immediate police action was followed by a political consequence: Information Minister Willian Izarra had to vacate his post.

The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) confirms the re-election of Hugo Chavez. Picture: abr.info.ve

Future of the Bolivarian Revolution

After the political process was confirmed with Chavez, a qualitative step is to be expected. In the past few years, the government’s main goal has been to politically and socially reintegrate the majority of the marginalized population. The social programs, especially in education and health, are the visible parts of the policy. The Mision Identidad program ensured that people in poor neighborhoods were included in the civil registry for the first time, received an identity card, and thus the right to participate in elections. With visible success: since the early hours of the morning, people have been lining up in front of the polling stations. Voter turnout was a good 75 percent, higher than in some European countries.

The real challenge for the government lies in economic policy. The additional revenues from the persistently high price of oil have so far made it possible to finance a rough social policy. The Chavez government’s declared goal, however, is to use the oil rents to develop a new domestic economy. For a sustainable change in the economic structure, more far-reaching reforms are necessary than have been seen to date.

It is precisely the forces at the bottom of the "Bolivarian revolution" point out that a new economic policy under the set criteria must also necessarily change the structure of the state. Among others, the trade union confederation UNT is pushing for a constitutional reform that would define the socialist character of the Venezuelan state and change the relationship between the institutions accordingly.

The activists addressed a paradox that was recently described by the British daily newspaper Guardian: While there is talk of socialism in Venezuela, the rich are getting richer and richer. Because this is also perceived in the country, the government now wants to implement a series of reforms after the election. In the short term, this includes dismantling the bureaucracy.

Apparently, the government also wants to reorganize the state structure. "So far we know only presidents and ministers", said the president before the election. But there are many alternatives to this "classical structure", Chavez, who responded to critical inquiries by saying that any reform would have to be in line with the constitution and would be put to a referendum.

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