Venezuelan election – commentary – October 7, 2012

– Stabroek News – http://www.stabroeknews.com

Venezuelan election

 Stabroek News On October 7, 2012 – Editorial |

By the time today’s edition of Sunday Stabroek lands on the breakfast table, thousands of Venezuelans will be queueing up to cast their votes in what is by far the most important poll in this hemisphere, bar the US election next month.  In fact, news agencies and media houses around the world will be monitoring it closely, since there is no South American leader – not even in behemoth Brazil – who triggers such strong emotions in politicians and ordinary citizens alike as the garrulous and mercurial Mr Hugo Chávez.

In this region particularly, a great deal hangs on the outcome of this poll, and it would send seismic shock waves throughout almost all the Caricom countries if he loses. For Cuba, of course, it would be less a seismic shock wave than a full-blown economic earthquake, but they are not the only ones who would feel the financial tremors. Leaders of other nations too have been the beneficiaries of President Chávez’s liberality, such as President Kirchner of Argentina, President Ortega of Nicaragua, and even the odious Bashar al Assad, to whom the Venezuelan head of state has been sending diesel fuel to keep his killing machines rolling through the towns and cities of Syria.  

This particular election has generated more excitement than usual, because for the first time in his fourteen years of office, Mr Chávez is facing a credible candidate leading a united opposition – the United Democratic Panel with the unfortunate acronym (in English) of MUD. There are other factors in play as well. President Chávez has been receiving treatment for an undisclosed form of cancer over the last year, and while he has declared himself free of the disease, not everyone is entirely convinced. Untypically for him, he has run a very lacklustre, limited campaign, and it is clear to Chavistas and opponents alike, that he has no stamina. For once, he has not been dictating the pace; it is Capriles who has, by travelling tirelessly around the country displaying vigour and enthusiasm to emphasize his youth.  In fact, the roles have been reversed, with the MUD leader running the kind of campaign on which Chávez has always had a monopoly.

However, it is Andres Oppenheimer whose opinion piece appears in our edition today (page 20), who points out that if a president dies during his first four years in office, then another election would have to be held within thirty days. Since the opposition has an altogether less sanguine view of the President’s health status than does the government side, it presumably feels that a defeat now would not necessarily mean there would not be a second chance before the next election is due. On the Chávez side, in contrast, particularly among his supporters on the street, there is a total faith in his complete recovery.  Since it has never been publicly revealed exactly what form of cancer he had, no one except his doctors is in a position to give a true prognosis. As a consequence of the lack of public clarification, however, the state of President Chávez’s health has lurked continually in the background of the campaign. As mentioned earlier, it was the unspoken element in Mr Capriles’ strategy, which attempted to emphasize energy, in contrast to what by implication was the lassitude of the ailing Mr Chávez.

What this means is, that if President Chávez wins another term, his health will still stay at the forefront of political debate, and may keep the opposition cohesive, in the hope – realistic or otherwise – that their candidate stands a real chance at some point. What is clear to everyone on both sides is that it is unlikely that Mr Chávez’s party can win an election without him.

As far as the result of today’s poll is concerned, if Mr Capriles wins, there is a certain nervousness about whether that would be universally accepted. The Chavistas in the barrios, it has been argued, would reject it, and many of them are armed. One suspects that in those circumstances much would depend on what Mr Chávez himself did, and whether he made it clear to his supporters that they should accept the outcome of the vote. Some commentators have raised other concerns too, more particularly as these relate to sections of the military who have a personal loyalty to Mr Chávez, and those elements in the officer corps who have been corrupted by drug money and whom a Capriles administration might seek to replace.

A Chávez win is less likely to generate protests, unless there were genuine concerns about the validity of the vote. Certainly the playing field for the campaign has been very uneven, with all the hallmarks of unfairness –and then some – with which we in this country are very familiar. However, Oppenheimer in an earlier column two weeks ago, was of the view that it would not be possible to perpetrate fraud during the actual poll itself, and that oppositions in other places had won in the teeth of arrangements which were shamelessly slanted to favour the incumbents. In addition to this it must be said that Mr Capriles’ party is deploying thousands of monitors, and the opposition leader himself has expressed confidence that it would not be possible for the government to rig the outcome.

No doubt Caricom ministers will be waiting with bated breath for the result, not excluding Dr Ashni Singh and Ms Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett. As has been mentioned more than once in these columns, a Capriles win would probably mean the end of PetroCaribe concessions, at least in their present form. We are marginally better off than some other Caricom countries in this respect, in so far as we only get 50% of our oil needs supplied by our western neighbour, while some of them are totally dependent on Venezuelan fuel. In addition they have received all kinds of other concessions. It might be mentioned that our rice contracts with Venezuela are government to government, so whether they would survive in their present format is very much an open question.

On the political front – as has been mentioned in SN’s editorial columns too before – we might see a less restrained Venezuelan posture in respect of the border controversy and related issues if Mr Capriles goes into Miraflores.

While by tonight, and certainly by tomorrow, we should have some idea of the shape of things to come, even if Mr Chávez wins, that will probably only cover the shape of the short term. There is a discernible shift in the Venezuelan mood, which might or might not be general enough to bring about a change of government now.  Even if it doesn’t, however, it is very unlikely Mr Chávez will win with the 63% of the vote he managed last time around, and after another six years in office (if there is no election before then) there will be much greater disaffection with his administration. What this means from Guyana’s point of view is that we must never assume that benign interludes will continue indefinitely; underlying issues can always resurface with a change of government, and we should always be prepared for this.

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—- Guyanese Online Post #1940

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