Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Venezuealan Regional Elections

The media spotlight was again on Venezuela this last weekend as regional elections were held. Would President Chavez consolidate power, would the opposition make significant gains, and would the perceived under-attack democratic norms be upheld?

In the end it was a case of both sides being able to claim some form of victory - Chavistas won the popular vote (53.5%) and 17 of the 22 states; the main opposition group won 5 states, amongst which were Miranda and Zulia, the country's two most populous states. The opposition was also able to win the mayoral elections in Caracas. As the map below shows, support for president Chavez remains on the face of it pretty solid throughout the country. However the fact that the opposition gained support in the highly populous and electorally crucial "coastal corridor", seems to suggest that the large sway of red Chavista support marginally overstates the extent of Chavez's popularity.

All in all these elections haven't told us anything that we didn't know before. Yes, Chavez remains popular throughout much of Venezuela. But also, the opposition support is gaining momentum, bouyed by the victory in the last referendum alongside good mobilisation of supporters in the country's larger cities. And of course the substantial downturn in oil prices has its effects on which way the votes swing. Drop any further and Chavez will be unlikey to dare push for a referendum that would allow him to run for re-election (again) in 2012.

As far as democratic norms are concerned the electoral commission described the conduct of voters as exemplary, and Hugo Chavez was almost magnamonious in defeat:

"We lost the governorship of Miranda and we recognise the triumph of our adversaries," he said. "How can anyone say there is a dictatorship in Venezuela? I, as head of state, recognise their triumphs and I hope that they'll recognise the head of state."

For a detailed, though slight pro-government, review of the election try the Venezualan Information Centre (VIC) Bloggers at Caracas Chronicles also have detailed reports, graphs and opinions on the outcome of the elections.

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