VENEZUELA: Chavismo is Alive and Well – A First Analysis of the Regional Elections
CHAVISMO won an important victory in the regional elections of October 15.
These regional elections took place after having been preceded by a cycle of violence promoted by anti-Chavista forces both inside and outside Venezuela. After four months of violence from April to July and efforts by Venezuela’s political opposition to boycott the elections to the National Constituent Assembly at the end of July, Chavismo’s forces managed to turn the conflict to an electoral one. The narrative that a “dictatorship” exists in Venezuela was undone by the United Democratic Table (MUD) opposition alliance’s participation in these regional elections.
Venezuela is also suffering a cycle of political and economic sanctions under the auspices of the White House arguing the absence of democratic guarantees in Venezuela. The Organization of American States (OAS), clearly managed by the United States, also uses the same argument and on various occasions has held activities questioning the regional elections’ legitimacy, even omitting to note that the opposition political parties are taking part in them.
On Sunday, October 15, President Nicolas Maduro criticised the corporate media silence on the elections and the governments and politicians who have cast doubt on the legitimacy of Venezuela’s democracy by trying to hide the elections and their results. He pointed out the dangers of insisting on calling Venezuela and outlaw anti-democratic State, concluding “Venezuela has shown the world we live in a full democracy."
Despite these influences, the institutional stability Chavismo has achieved in Venezuela enabled the authorities to organize these elections and to corral into that political framework the forces inside and outside Venezuela that have tried to undermine the stability of Venezuela’s institutions by pushing the country into the beginnings of a civil war.
61.14 per cent of eligible voters participated in the elections. For this type of election that figure is considered to represent a high level of participation, superior to similar elections in other countries like Colombia, Chile, Argentina or Mexico, or in other parts of the world, for example the United States, France or Germany.
Nationally, Chavismo received 54 per cent of the total vote, reestablishing the pattern for other more prominent elections to public office. For their part, the MUD won 45 per cent of the votes. Chavismo wont 75 per cent of the state governorships, 17 out of a total of 23. The MUD won 5 governorships with just one state, Bolivar, still to be called.
However, this solid victory also has a strong symbolic meaning, for example historically pro-opposition states like Lara, Miranda y Amazonas, usually opposition trampolines in maneuvers for Presidential elections, were won by Chavista candidates by a good margin. From the perspective of governorships supposedly serving as an alternative political model to Chavismo, in effect the MUD opposition yesterday lost three states crucial to their presidential aspirations. Opposition leaders like Henri Falcon and Henrique Capriles have lost ground and now lack a power base from which to launch more important political campaigns.
In terms of the national vote, leaving out the results yet to be announced from the state of Bolivar, Chavismo got more than 5.2 million votes, a number that will increase once 100 percent of the voting returns are in, while the MUD got a rounded up figure of 4.5 million.
Some comparisons are worth noting in relation to that statistic. The MUD dropped almost 3 million votes in comparison with their best ever result in the parliamentary elections of 2015 of more than 7 million votes. Whereas Chavismo, intimidated and blockaded by the United States, its regional allies and some European countries managed to maintain and recover its political capital in a very adverse moment.
Chavismo’s victory can be gauged not just by the number of governorships it won and the votes it got but by the electoral decline of the MUD, who had hoped to capitalise on the economic discontent they have helped to foment, it should be noted, from the legislature they control and via the US financial sanctions they demanded.
A quick review offers some outstanding factors that explain the Chavista victory. Among the most relevant are:
- in a situation of economic adversity Chavismo set up safety net systems of food support which reached a great many people. The Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) have been key in protecting broad sectors of the population, containing the spread of the price and supply chaos used to attack Venezuela’s economy. In August, the percentage of the population covered by the CLAPs increased by 58 per cent, reaching 9 million families.
- Venezuela’s State policy to make its social programs more efficient and better focused, known as the Patriotic Card, has been effective in organising socially vulnerable parts of the population. While the MUD’s electoral campaign, given the current bad economic situation, offered no concrete solutions, which directly affected their electoral support.
- Chavismo’ electoral organisation and its election campaign, offering solutions to the main demands of the population, worked well together. Many voters saw Chavismo as the political force best able to take on the major tasks and challenges facing the regional governments.
- The Trump administration’s sanctions and the open intervention by the US government gave more cohesion to the Chavistas and significantly increased the role of national defense, security, independence and sovereignty as ideals able to mobilise support for Chavismo. Even Datanalisis, one of the most influential opposition aligned polling companies, acknowledged that approval of President Maduro had increased by almost 6 per cent by the end of September.
- The MUD’s violence and their leadership’s frequent visits overseas, calling for sanctions against Venezuela, worked in a similar way. Chavismo articulated a campaign advocating political peace and rejecting foreign intervention, which thus polarised the political scene between those trying to destroy the country and those seeking peaceful solutions to the country’s problems.
- By setting aside narrow administrative or local regional electoral issues, Chavismo managed to make the central political argument turn on the choice between political stability and order or anarchy and ungovernability.
- Chavismo went into these regional elections with both new regional leaderships and also already well consolidated leaders too. So their candidates in large part looked fresh and new, while, for the opposition, the mixture of little known leaders and discredited mayors and political machines yielded poor results and were a direct cause of big losses in some states.
- Chavismo as a political identity is also a factor to take into account. It has solid bastions in the country’s interior. Its revolutionary forces won by large margins, paradoxically in some of the states worst hit by the economic crisis. This is only explicable by the high level of community political consciousness. In the context of the economic intimidation by the business and commercial sectors allied with the MUD, Chavismo has operated on the very simple logic of opposing their efforts at extortion. As a result, Chavista supporters voted by way of punishing the people promoting the economic warfare associated with the MUD.
- The violence from April through July, which caused 147 deaths and incalculable damage to public and private property, along with the street terrorism and paramilitary style violence, traumatised Venezuela’s society splitting the opposition itself into those for the violence and those against it.
- An electoral paradox resulted by which there were opposition supporters who did not vote for the MUD because they saw it as violent. But also significant sectors of the opposition who had fervently believed in the overthrow of Chavismo felt frustrated when the MUD decided to participate in the elections. Both groups, especially the second, expressed disenchantment with the MUD leadership which they regarded as treacherous, erratic and incoherent. Electoral abstention worked against the MUD.
- The still fresh images of the violence and terrorism that almost sunk Venezuela into chaos between April and July, leaving over 100 people dead, created an electoral climate outside committed opposition followers unfavorable for the MUD in terms of electoral support. The MUD’s failure to bring about the overthrow of the government strengthened perceptions of Chavismo as representing order and stability. In times of stress, insecurity about the future and continuing turbulence those perceptions attracted support among the population.
- Part of the electorate rejected the Trump administration’s overall measures of economic suffocation which the MUD leadership has consistently demanded. When it came to the vote, most people were opposed to that economic intervention which only complicated their lives for the worse.
- The loss of MUD bastions like the states of Lara, Miranda and Amazonas, indicates that regional governments under the MUD are not regarded as being effective or in tune with the population’s expectations. The perception that the MUD is an organisation associated with broken promises damaged electoral support even among its followers, not just in the three states mentioned, but in many others too. The MUD is not well regarded in terms of regional government.
- The MUD’s rhetoric, monotonously focused on condemning President Maduro’s government as a “dictatorship”, failed. That rhetoric did not mobilise support because it focused on attacking Chavismo. But in regional elections it is essential to offer effective responses to popular demands and that was absent from the MUD’s campaign, which was demagogic across the board offering few responses to the populations immediate demands.