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Venezuela: Chavistas celebrate important victory in municipal elections

By Ewan Robertson, Caracas

December 10, 2013 -- Venezuelanalysis.com -- Supporters of Venezuela's revolutionary government celebrated their victory in the municipal elections held on December 8. Analysts have commented that results indicate President Nicolas Maduro has “reconnected” with the social base of the Chavista movement.

The first results announced gave the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) victory in 58% of the country’s municipalities. The PSUV and its allies gained more than 49% of the total vote share versus 43% for the opposition.

After the results were announced, President Nicolas Maduro gave a televised speech from the Plaza Bolivar in central Caracas to celebrate the win.

“Without a doubt we’ve obtained a great victory today, the people of Venezuela have said to the world that the Bolivarian revolution continues with more strength than ever,” he said.

Maduro mentioned that the right-wing opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition had now lost four national elections over the past 14 months.

He also responded to opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ argument that the municipal elections would be a “plebiscite” on the government’s mandate: “There you have your plebiscite, Caprichito, fascist. I hope that he learns about humility and shows his face to the country and resigns from the political leadership of the MUD.”

The next electoral challenge for the government will not be until 2015, when National Assembly elections will be held. Maduro suggested the PSUV and their allies in the Great Patriotic Pole coalition should start thinking about these now, in order to “win big” and “sweep fascism away”.

A year of challenges

Backed by the election results, Maduro also announced the government’s economic and political priorities for 2014.

The president is hoping to draft a law this week that will set out a comprehensive methodology to regulate costs, prices and profits “for all the products in the country, for all sectors”.

“Yes it can be done, and we’re going to consolidate it,” Maduro announced. He said he will also look at measures against overpricing in the property and housing sectors.

A new phase of Maduro’s Street Government initiative will be launched in January. Priorities to work on include: developing the housing mission and the community renovation program Barrio Nuevo, the improvement of public hospitals, the guarantee of drinking water supply to all homes, and the spreading of the anti-crime Safe Homeland Plan.

Opposition reaction

As opposed to during the municipal election campaign, opposition leaders did not mention the words “referendum” or “plebiscite” in their response to the results.

Henrique Capriles claimed that turnout of 59% was “low” and that the government had run an “abusive” campaign. Like other opposition leaders, the state governor alleged the government’s recent economic measures were solely aimed at gaining electoral support for the municipal elections.

The measures, termed as an “economic offensive” by Maduro, forced price reductions of some goods regarded as speculative.

However, Capriles argued: “All those measures … were taken to try to arrive at December 8, but we know there’s a December 9 tomorrow and that a very difficult future is coming for our country.”

The opposition also called for “unity” and “dialogue”. Maduro has committed himself to work with all mayors elected.

'Reconnecting' with the Chavista base

The president of private polling firm Hinterlaces, Oscar Schemel, commented this morning that the municipal election results are positive for Chavismo.

He said the recent price cuts and other measures, which lowered the cost of life for ordinary people, helped the Maduro government garner greater support among its traditional social base.

He told TV channel Globovision: “This evidently reconnected Chavismo and Maduro with their followers. In some way the hopes of broad sectors that were distanced from the government have been reestablished.”

Both state-owned and private media have coincided in praising the peaceful and ordinary nature of the elections.

By Tamara Pearson

December 9, 2013 -- Venezuelanalysis.com -- Following a hard year for us, yesterday’s positive election result came as a relief. It is a hopeful result that gives a well deserved finger to the bitter, whinging opposition, and their private media buddies. However, the political significance of the result is also more complicated than that, and it is now time to focus our energy on really consolidating this revolution.

The exact overall difference between those who support the revolution, and those who are against it, depends on how you read the numbers. There are three different ways to do that: according to each organisation’s vote on its own, according to the candidates’ votes (as most Chavista candidates were supported by multiple organisations) and according to candidates’ politics, where independents may support one side or another, or where there were split votes (with the Communist Party of Venezuela -- PCV -- running against the PSUV for example, but both are counted as being pro-revolution).

Going through the results respectively (mostly based on the first bulletin, with 97% of votes counted): in the first instance, the PSUV as an organisation got 4,584,477 votes, or 44.16%, the MUD got 40.96%, the PCV got 1.6% and other organisations got 13.36% of the vote. In the second instance, PSUV candidates, supported by a range of organisations, received 5,111,336 votes, or 49.24%, and the opposition candidates, supported by the MUD and by other opposition parties, got 4,435,097 votes, or 42.72%, and others received 8.03%. In the last instance, one divides the “others” in to pro-revolution and against the revolution. According to President Maduro, that makes the spread 54% pro-revolution to 45% against it, though of course these numbers are more subjective, depending on one’s interpretation of each independent and small party’s politics, and verifying those numbers would involve going through thousands of individual candidate results.

On a municipality basis, the PSUV won outright, as it has much more support in the more rural and poorer areas, while the opposition’s support is almost entirely concentrated in the wealthier areas of the big cities. So far out of a total of 337, the PSUV has won 210 municipalities, the MUD 53, other parties eight, and the rest are still undecided. The opposition won by some decent margins in some of Venezuela’s biggest cities, with 67.6% of the vote in San Cristobal, 63.88% of the vote in Merida, 55.87% in Carabobo, 51.8% in Maracaibo and 50.81% in Metropolitan Caracas. Caracas was clearly quite close, and the PSUV won Libertador municipality, Caracas, with 54.55%. Detailed CNE results can be found here.

Whichever numbers you use though, the revolution clearly won. Further, despite being local elections, because of the political weight they were given, particularly by the opposition, the results consolidate Maduro’s leadership. The number breakdown is also very consistent with results for other non-presidential elections over the last seven years or so.

Media still parrots Capriles, and the question of where to now for the opposition

After the results were announced just after 10 pm last night, Henrique Capriles, who had basically abandoned his job as Miranda governor and had been campaigning for the opposition, tweeted the following: “2014 is looking like a very difficult year for Venezuela, and we’ll be there with you all to look for ways out of the economic chaos”. He also tweeted repeatedly, “No one is the owner [head] of Venezuela, the country needs unity, dialogue ... we have a divided Venezuela”.

Private English and Spanish language media parroted his analysis, with AP headlining, “Split results in Venezuela mayoral elections” and referring to the election results as a “political stalemate”. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “Venezuelan Vote Reflects Deep Divide”, and BBC World in Spanish, “Venezuela is still divided”.

Nevertheless, most mainstream international and Venezuelan media was forced to recognise that the PSUV won yesterday’s elections, and fairly. The Guardian and Reuters headlined, “Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro cements power with victory in elections” and noted, “President Nicolás Maduro's party won the most votes in Venezuela's local elections on Sunday, disappointing the opposition and helping his quest to preserve the late Hugo Chavez's socialist legacy.”

So that leaves us wondering what the opposition will do now. It tried a coup in 2002, and since around 2005 it has tried a more indirect, psychological war approach, while pretending to accept some of the revolution’s main facets and demonising it at the same time. It has lost again and again, with the exception of the 2007 constitutional referendum. I repeat -- the opposition has lost 18 out of 19 elections in the last 14 years. The death of Hugo Chavez, and its economic attacks this year have been the best chance it has had, yet even under those conditions around 5 million Chavistas have stayed strong. With the “electoral fraud” angle looking pathetic, what will the opposition do now? Will it wait and maintain it attacks, until attempting a presidential recall poll in 2016, which it may not win?

A significant victory in difficult circumstances

I remember the April presidential election, walking past the Libertador high school in Merida at night after booths had closed. There were two large military tanks parked outside it. Perhaps 200 people from both sides had gathered there and were exchanging chant attacks. It was tense. The opposition was alleging problems in the vote counting in the booth. This time, I went back there, and children were playing out the front of the booth on bikes and roller skates. The booth witnesses from both camps were waiting to go in, but it was calm, they joked together, and when the booth closed, they clapped. The opposition’s strategy and discourse of violence, hate, fear and tension had an impact in April, but despite maintaining it through to these elections, it has been unsustainable in the long term.

Furthermore internationally, these elections largely nullify claims of fraud and an unreliable electoral system. Praise for Venezuela’s system is high and ongoing, and the participation rate this time was 59%, despite the elections being local only, being held close to Christmas and school holidays, and despite being the fourth in 14 months, speaks to the people’s faith in the system. According to Bipartisan Research Centre, a smaller percentage of eligible voters turned out to the US 2012 presidential elections.

More importantly, this is an electoral victory after exactly one year without Chavez at the helm, and after almost a year of higher inflation, some scarcity, ongoing media attacks and a psychological war, as well as an almost nationwide blackout last week. The 5 million who voted for PSUV candidates are politically consistent, strong and prove that this is a socialist project, not something that can be reduced to the charisma of Chavez, as the media tried to do.

Victory at what price?

Yet the numbers from yesterday are limited in their ability to measure the strength of the actual revolution.

Let’s not forget how many of the PSUV candidates were chosen without any consultation, by state governors usually. Many activists resented that, but voted for PSUV candidates in order to safeguard the revolution in general. Also, in the long term we’d like to see the mayors have less and less power and resources, and the communes and councils more.

The elections are one type of battle, but it could be argued the national economic and class one is even bigger. Maduro’s response to the economic attacks and the generally greedy profiteering of the business class has been firm. Their attacks and his response has seen an increased class consciousness, as the economy becomes an even more tangible part of our everyday lives, rather than just something for the experts to chat about. People are politically clear, and are angry, but there’s been a disappointing lack of increased class organisation, or organisation to defend our economic rights. There has been some, but the situation warrants more. I think many people fortunately and unfortunately believe the government will solve it all.

We have two years until the next election; national assembly ones in 2015. Hopefully now we can focus our energy and time less on electoral campaign tents and posters and word battles with the opposition, and get down to consolidating the communes, communal councils, national and democratic production and distribution, land and indigenous rights, gender and sexuality issues, pro-environmental measures, and the participatory organisation of those who support the revolution.

All these things are outlined in the Socialist Plan 2013-2019. There is the political will, now let’s see now if we have the political determination.

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