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Venezuela: A Lopsided Campaign Means Lopsided Results

By: Trino Márquez - Dec 17, 2013, 5:24 pm

EspañolMunicipal elections took place in Venezuela on December 8, and two key contextual factors characterized the national environment of the campaigns.

First, after Nicolás Maduro was elected as president — through an election with highly questionable results — his levels of approval suffered greatly. Maduro showed himself to be weak and disorganized, in contrast to his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chávez, a charismatic and powerful man. Before the elections took place, both Chavismo and the opposition forecasted Maduro’s imminent defeat. However, the government aimed to turn this unfavorable scenario into their benefit.

Following that development, the second factor arose: Maduro decided to increase political polarization, through a strategy based on open confrontation with businesses, especially with retailers. He started talking, through national broadcasts on radio and television, about an “economic war” led by the “enemies of the people and the revolution.” According to this demagoguery, the weapons used by stores and industries in this “war” were price speculation and hoarding of supplies. Afterwards, Maduro switched from an inflammatory speech of allegations to electioneering sophistry and populist platitudes. Just a few days before the electoral campaigns began, he illegally forced a 50 and 70 percent reduction on household appliance and electronics prices across the whole country.

This authoritarian decision stopped the fall of Maduro’s popularity, especially in low-income areas. Instead, it showed them a president with more command. Also, it put the opposition in a very tight spot: if they supported the businesses, they would be defending the “speculators”; but if they backed the government, they would be encouraging more of these interventions. In the time it took the opposition to analyze their response, the government was strengthened, which on November 17, allowed them to start off the campaign from a very intimidated opposition.

An Lopsided Campaign

Even though the campaign officially lasted three weeks, it really lasted the whole year. The regime used all the power of the state to benefit its candidates. The numerous state media outlets — from television to free newspapers — turned into publicity agencies for the ruling party aspirants. The opposition, on the other hand, only received mention for the sake of criticism.

From November 17, Nicolás Maduro spoke via national broadcasts almost every day. In some cases, he even spoke twice and three times on the same day, using an inauguration of a public works as an excuse to glorify himself, his party, and his candidates. The financial resources and buses owned by Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state oil company, were used by these same candidates for their different political rallies. In addition, Maduro declared December 8 the Day of Loyalty and Love for the Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez, which represented a blatant and opportunistic misuse of his executive powers.

The National Electoral Council (CNE), which has been politically biased, never said a word about the numerous abuses of power and cases of misappropriating public funds for electoral purposes, and they became an ally of the regime. According to Vicente Díaz, the only council member who takes into account the interests of the opposition, the elections held on December 8 were the most unbalanced in the last 15 years, including those when Chávez was alive, which were completely one-sided.

Analysis of the Results for the Opposition

Despite the huge advantages the government had created for itself and the poor conditions which most of the opposition candidates had to bear, the regime didn’t manage to win as overwhelmingly as most expected. Still, the decisions made by Maduro against businesses had a positive impact on the recovery of his popularity levels, as well as in his party’s campaign, especially in Libertador Municipality and in important cities in the east-side of the country.

However, the opposition won in the main capitals of the western states, those with the highest populations. They triumphed in the Metropolitan Area of Caracas where Antonio Ledezma, who sought reelection, surpassed Ernesto Villegas, an important national figure of Chavismo. These Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) candidates, in the most important coalition of opposition parties, also won in Maracaibo and Valencia, the biggest cities after Caracas. The same went for Barquisimeto, San Cristóbal, and Mérida — capitals of big states with political and economic importance.

One city that’s worth mentioning is the capital of Barinas, birthplace of Hugo Chávez. The regime’s defeat in this locality was particularly painful, because it happened on the same day of the tribute to the late caudillo. This showed an apathy from his fellow-countrymen and the lack of effectiveness his celebration had.

In the eastern-side, the regime lost in Maturín — the capital of Monagas and symbol of Chavismo — as well as Porlamar, the commercial capital of Nueva Esparta state and center for national and international tourism.

Overall, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) received more votes than the MUD: 5,216,876 (48.73 percent) over 4,375,910 (40.87 percent). However, if one compares the number of votes obtained by PSUV to the total number of votes of the opposition and other political parties, the proportion is different. Combined, all the political groups opposing Chavismo got 5,494,356 votes (51.27 percent). Regarding the number of municipalities, PSUV won a great majority over MUD, especially in rural areas: 249 out of 337 respectively.

The country remains polarized and divided into two big groups, for and against the regime. At the same time, those political organizations independent from PSUV and MUD grew, earning 10.4 percent of the total number of votes. The unity in the opposition remained, though, and that allowed MUD to obtain these great triumphs in the most significant cities, although the PSUV received more support from rural areas. Taking into account these results, Maduro and his circle will have a hard time trying to impose the communist system, their only alternative will be by force.

Translated by Marcela Estrada.

Trino Márquez Trino Márquez

Doctor of social science, professor at the Central University of Venezuela, and academic director of Cedice-Libertad. Follow him on Twitter @trinomarquezc.