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VENEZUELA
Chavista victory with bitter taste
Héctor Riazuelo
4/18/2013
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Maduro is declared president amidst fraud claims

The profound polarization of the Venezuelan society was again revealed with the narrow margin of victory of the official candidate, interim President Nicolás Maduro, in the April 14 presidential elections, and the protests of the opposing candidate, Henrique Capriles, who denounced irregularities in the electoral process and demanded a recount of the votes.

According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), Maduro, political heir of the deceased leader of the Bolivarian Revolution and former President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), won with 7,563,747 votes (50.75 percent) versus Capriles’s 7,298,491 votes (48.98 percent) — a mere difference of 265,256 votes, without counting votes cast abroad by Venezuelan nationals.

A total of 18.9 million people were eligible to vote. The abstention rate was 21.3 percent and total null votes were 0.44 percent.

After the president of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced Maduro’s victory, Capriles demanded that the electoral organism open all the ballot boxes to count each vote.

Although voting is electronic, a receipt remains as proof of voting and Capriles, amidst the denounced irregularities, requested the audit of 100 percent of the votes and not only of the 54 percent required by law. On April 18 the CNE approved the move.

Beyond the final outcome of the crisis unleashed by the questioning of the results, the official numbers indicate that Capriles and the opposition, clustered in the Democratic Unity Roundtable alliance, were strengthened with the addition of more than 700,000 votes to those acquired against Chávez in the Oct. 2012 presidential elections, while the ruling government party lost more than 600,000 votes. In October Capriles lost the elections by 44 percent against Chávez’s 55 percent, but even then the difference had begun to decrease in comparison to previous elections in which the president triumphed with more than 60 percent of the votes.

In the regional elections of last December, Chávez’s party won 20 of the 23 governorships of the country. This time the opposition won the presidential vote in eight states, including Miranda, where Capriles is governor.

Chávez’s shadow
Chávez passed away on Mar. 5 without having assumed the presidency on Jan. 10. Weeks after winning the October elections, the president was taken to Cuba to undergo a treatment for the cancer that afflicted him since mid-2011. At that moment, he designated Maduro as his successor, declaring that “if something were to happen that would prevent me from continuing [to lead] as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro not only in that situation must finish the term as the Constitution mandates, but my firm and full opinion, irrevocable, absolute, total, is that in that situation that would require the calling of presidential elections, you must choose Nicolás Maduro as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

A month before the previous elections, few expected such a closed outcome. The polls gave Maduro an easy lead of 15 to 20 points.

However, already during the week before the elections, when the law prohibits dissemination of poll results, the candidate from the government was losing momentum at an accelerated rate.

The president of the polling company Hinterlaces, Oscar Schmel, pointed out that the dramatic fall of the official candidate was due to various campaign errors.

“The campaign moved from a gloomy, mournful tone to an almost festive electoral tone, while a quick image of Nicolás Maduro was created amidst a climate of instability rooted in the death of Chávez,” he pointed out to Latinamerica Press.

Various analysts agree that the excessive use of the figure of the deceased leader by a successor who did not achieve a similar connection with the electorate motivated the exodus of votes to Capriles from the so-called soft vote of Chavismo.

“Maduro had a terrible performance,” indicates sociologist Tulio Hernández to Latinamerica Press, “including geographic errors and impudences such as having said that Chávez had appeared to him in bird form, which made him an object of mockery.”

“Chávez was a natural leader, witty, who was sensitive with modest people,” declared Josefina Camacho, one of the voters who changed sides. “He noticed those who had never been taken into account and was authentic, knew how to reach the hearts of the people. On the other hand, Maduro was seen as ill prepared to be president and without personality.”

Capriles’s sweetened image
On the other hand, Schemel highlighted that Capriles knew how to take advantage of the worsening of problems in the government’s administration in regards to insecurity, the shortage, the electric crisis, and the high cost of living.

Although the high inflation, at 25 percent in 2012, and crime are situations that have been affecting the Venezuelan population for a while, it was the devaluation in February of almost 32 percent of the currency that worsened the prospects for Maduro.

In this regard, sociologist Maryclen Stelling, member of the Global Media Observatory, highlighted to Latinamerica Press the “wise campaign” of the opposing candidate, who achieved “to camouflage himself to appear as a sweetened version of Chávez with an aggressive style of confrontation.” Likewise, she called attention to Capriles’s campaign’s effective use of social networks and technology.

When the results were made known, Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, which has a Chavista majority, called for “a deep self-evaluation.”

“It is contradictory that sectors of the poor people vote for their longtime exploiters,” he declared on his Twitter account.

Despite Capriles’s good performance in the elections, Schmel highlights that, while “the opposition capitalized on the discontent of the government supporters, picking up a protest vote, it is still not seen as an alternative.”
However, after winning more than 7 million votes, facing Chavismo which until recently appeared unbeatable, the opposition would seem able to demand greater recognition from the government.

“Facing the evidence, the government must recognize that both parties have more or less the same electoral strength,” says Hernández. “However, according to the first public appearances of Nicolás Maduro, all would seem to indicate that Chavismo will maintain its line of rejecting dialogue. This makes [us] foresee, taking into account the size of the economic crisis, that difficult times are coming.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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Electoral results show a deeply divided country. (Photo: Harold Escalona)
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