People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 47

November 30, 2008


Venezuela Painted Red

R Arun Kumar

THE crucial regional elections in Venezuela, observed by 134 international observers from 34 different countries were held successfully on November 23, 2008. More than 65 per cent of the people exercised their franchise in these elections which is unprecedented in any prior elections other than that of the presidential election.

The opposition had declared that it expected to win no less than 14 provincial governments but was able to win in five states– Carabobo, Miranda, Nueva Esparta, Táchira, and Zulia. Contrary to the media projections and expectations of the opposition parties in Venezuela the people of that country have once again painted their country 'red' by overwhelmingly electing 'Chavistas' as their representatives. PSUV, the party led by Chavez secured 58 per cent of the popular vote. These elections as Fidel Castro has pointed out in his 'Reflections' “meant a qualitative step forward for the Bolivarian revolutionary process”.

The electoral map of Venezuela shows that pro-government PSUV candidates gained the majority of officies throughout the country. They won 17 out of 22 governorships, or 77 per cent of the total states. PSUV candidates and allies also won mayoral posts in 81 per cent of municipalities throughout the nation or 265 out of 328 cities. This represents a steady increase since pro-Chávez candidates won 114 mayor’s offices in the year 2000, and 226 offices in 2004.

Meanwhile, in at least four out of the five states where opposition governors were elected, the majority of mayoralties went to the PSUV (only Zulia is still to be decided) while also winning majority of the cities in the states that they themsleves had won. This means that local leadership remains with the ruling political party overall. Some municipalities, for the first time during the tenure of the Chávez administration had shifted to PSUV leadership by choosing a progressive leader.

In the state of Miranda, in which the national capital Caracas is located, PSUV candidates won in 15 municipalities, including Libertador, which has a population of 500,000, while opposition candidates won in five municipalities. “The bastion of Caracas has not been lost,” Chávez asserted. A lot has been reported about the 'upset' opposition victory in Caracas city. In the five municipalities that make up metropolitan Caracas, three are traditionally opposition bastions, whereas the sprawling municipality of Libertador in western Caracas has consistently gone Chavista. While Chávez's own support is highest in rural areas, in past elections the president has generally been able to win many of the country's large metropolitan areas, albeit by small margins. Caracas itself is a city divided, with poor barrios voting overwhelmingly for Chávez and the wealthier-but less populated-areas voting up to 80 per cent against.

In races for state governors, the opposition's five victories were claimed by far smaller margins than those earned by the PSUV, which clearly dominated in the remaining 17 states. This is a key difference. The fact that PSUV candidates put up strong fight in opposition dominated states is in itself an achievement because many did not expect it. And even more surprising is the fact that PSUV managed to win many mayoralities in those states and the thin margins with which it lost the post of governors.

In one state Carabobo, incumbent former Chavista Felipe Acosta Carlez refused to comply with PSUV internal elections, insisting on running for re-election against the official Chavista candidate. While Acosta Carlez only took 6.5 per cent, this was enough to tip the scales in favour of the oppostion in a close race decided by only three percentage points.

The regional elections saw a record-setting 65.5 per cent voter turnout. Of the 16.8 million registered voters in Venezuela, roughly 11 million went to the polls. This is a record for the country, and likely among the highest rates of voter turnout in local elections anywhere in the hemisphere. In these elections PSUV candidates got 5.4 million votes which is 1.3 million more votes than the constitutional reform proposal received last year. Opposition candidates received 4.3 million votes, about 200,000 fewer than the number of votes against the constitutional reform.

These elections illustrated two new aspects of Venezuela's political landscape. First, in the country as a whole, Chavez gained a large margin of support over the opposition, of around 1 million additional votes or roughly 20 per cent. That is a dramatic shift in comparison to the referendum on constitutional reform last year, which Chavez lost by roughly 1 per cent.

All states in Venezuela with strategic natural resources and industries elected PSUV candidates for governor, with the exception of Zulia in the West. This means that pro-government leadership prevailed in the oil-rich states some of which encompass the lucrative Orinoco Oil Belt and in the state of Bolívar that hosts the country's other important basic industries. As has been true for nearly a decade, the majority of Venezuela's population will continue to live in states with pro-Chávez governors. This is currently true for 57 per cent of the country's population, while a smaller amount - 43 per cent - have opposition governors. No doubt this is due to the way his government has given the majority of the people access to free education for the first time, eradicated illiteracy, massively expanded access to free education at every level and raised the living standards of the impoverished majority.

These elections show that Chavez now faces a more specific but equally imperative challenge, that of radically improving the infrastructure, and with it, the efficiency and quality of life in the country's main cities. Commenting on these election results Chávez has declared, “The construction of socialism in Venezuela is ratified and we will now take charge of deepening it.” The future of the Bolivarian revolution thus depends on how successfully Chavez uses this popular support to transform the living conditions of the people of Venezuela and fight the class enemies relentlessly attacking him. Only then Fidel Castro's strong confidence expressed in these words “That’s why I said and now repeat that it will be very difficult to put out the flames of the Revolution in Venezuela” will be realised.