Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Venezuelan elections: something for everyone

On Sunday Venezuela held a series of regional elections. This is the first electoral outing since President Hugo Chávez (left of photo) founded his party of left unity (PSUV) and it has been hailed by both left and right as a vindication of their positions.

Chávez's party won 17 out of the 22 states that went to the polls and, on a record 65% turnout, increased their vote by more than a million. So when the Independent describes the vote as a "set back" for Chávez you are left scratching your head somewhat. With around 60% of the national vote the revolutionary process taking place in Venezuela clearly still has real support.

After Chávez lost his constitutional referendum last year there was much chatter that perhaps the so called Bolivarian Revolution was losing momentum. These results appear to refute that pretty conclusively.

Caracas falls to the right

Having said that the opposition did make substantial gains and were coming from a very low position (as they boycotted these elections last time). Of the five gains four are new wins taken from the left.

Most importantly the right won the Mayoralty of Caracas with 52% of the vote to the PSUV's 45%. Shockingly the PSUV lost four of Caracas' five municipalities, only holding onto to the very poorest area. This is a double set back for Chávez because not only has he lost the most important Mayoralty in the country it also means that former Minister for Education Aristobulo Isturiz, one of Venezuela's few prominent black politicians is no longer a front line politician.

And those to the left of Chávez win real support

It was also a good election for the furthest left of the leftists. In three of the votes for governor it was the far left (or should that be further left?) who came second, leaving the right choking on their electoral dust. In Guarico Lenny Manuitt (pictured) won 33.7% of the vote, in Delta Amacuro Pedro Santaella won 25.4% and in Barinas Julio Cesar Reyes won an outstanding 44% of the vote against Chávez's own brother. Although none of these candidates were quite able to win, their substantial vote must have been very gratifying.

Of all of the independent left candidates it was in Lara where the greatest success was seen. Henri Falcón was elected on a whopping 73% of the vote despite having been expelled from the PSUV earlier in the year. Chávez is not always entirely keen on independently minded leftists (hence Falcón's expulsion) so it will be interesting to see how his term in Lara pans out.

When all is said and done though the excellent Richard Gott is right when he says that "many Venezuelans, after 10 years of upheaval under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, remain solidly supportive of the project of which they see themselves to be an integral part." So although there was something for everyone to celebrate on Sunday Chávez's revolution is still very firmly on track.

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