Eyewitness Venezuela: Maduro wins close victory; Right wing reacts violently
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, Merida
April 16, 2013 -- Green Left Weekly -- The room erupted into cheers when the election result was announced. For hours, the city of Merida's most ardent supporters of socialist presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro had gathered in the local offices of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). However, after a few moments, the closeness of the numbers sank in.
At the time of writing, the National Electoral Council (CNE) had announced that with 99% of votes counted, the PSUV's Maduro won with 50.6%. His closest rival, Henrique Capriles, received 49.1%; giving Maduro a slim 1.5% victory.
In the last presidential elections, Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez defeated Capriles – the candidate of the US-backed right wing hostile to the Chavez-led Boliviaran revolution -- by just over 10%,. Many supporters of the revolution were expecting a similar result.
Last month, a joint Barclays/Datanalisis report gave Maduro a 14.4% lead, while pollster Hinterlaces predicted his victory would be 18%.
Despite the unexpectedly close result, Chavistas celebrated outside the offices with fireworks and music. Throughout the city, carloads of supporters waved red flags, chanting slogans.
By midnight a crowd had gathered in the main square, but for a Chavista gathering it was uncharacteristically subdued. There was an air of uncertainty; despite a turnout of over 78%, Maduro not only fell short of his lofty goal of 10 million votes, but failed to deliver the overwhelming victory that most pundits expected.
Although Capriles had repeatedly stated during his election campaign that his victory was all but inevitable, the right-wing candidate likewise failed to live up to the expectations of many supporters.
At the time of writing, Capriles was yet to accept the results. “We are not going to recognise the result until every vote is counted, one by one,” he stated on Venezuelan television. He further described Maduro's victory as “completely illegitimate”, after previously accusing the government and CNE of undermining the voting process.
Likewise rejecting the results, Merida's opposition neighbourhoods became filled with the sound of cacerolazo; a form of protest involving the clapping of pots and pans outside windows. Despite the competing displays in the streets, no violence had been reported in Merida at the time of writing.
Throughout the day, Green Left Weekly visited a number of polling stations in Merida, and observed voting take place in an orderly manner. A strong military and police presence was maintained until late into the night, though many opposition supporters were seen grouped outside the largest station in Merida during the afternoon.
Accusing the government of trying to “interfere” with the ballots, Capriles encouraged supporters to remain on the streets after voting. He also called for an “avalanche” of opposition voters to descend on polling stations mid-afternoon; something which didn't happen at any stations visited by Green Left.
However, elsewhere in the country some disturbances were reported. In Sucre, Miranda state, Venezuela Analysis reported some “opposition led” violence, while El Universal reported an opposition youth leader had been detained by authorities for campaigning. All forms of electoral campaigning during the voting period is illegal in Venezuela.
The final week of campaigning was also marred by security threats, with the government announcing on April 12 that a plot to destabilise the country had been neutralised.
The previous day, during a series of early morning raids security forces uncovered a group of Colombian paramilitaries in possession of Venezuelan military uniforms, C4 explosives and 50 high capacity assault rifle magazines. Two arrests were made.
Even now that the vote is over, the general sense of uncertainty endures. Although Maduro stated in his victory speech that a new era for the revolution is beginning, it is yet to be seen if the government he leads will deepen the revolutionary process towards socialism, or pursues a more moderate agenda.
For now, however, Chavista street parties are continuing in Merida, while in Caracas thousands turned out to see Maduro's acceptance speech. Today's vote may have been less than the overwhelming victory hoped for, but it was a victory nonetheless.[Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is a Green Left Weekly journalist based in Merida.]
Close election is a wake-up call
By Mark Weisbrot
April 15, 2013 -- Venezuelanalysis.com -- After a short but bitterly fought, insult-laden campaign, Chávista standard-bearer Nicolás Maduro defeated challenger Henrique Capriles, thus assuring continuity in Venezuela after the death of the former president, Hugo Chávez, last month. But the election was much closer than the polls predicted: a margin of just 1.6%, or about 275,000 votes.
Capriles is demanding an audit of 100% of all votes; Maduro has apparently agreed. But the audit is unlikely to change the outcome. Unlike in the United States, where in a close election we really don't know who won, the Venezuelan system is very secure. Since there are two records of every vote (machine and paper ballot), it is nearly impossible to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match.Former US president Jimmy Carter called Venezuela's electoral system "the best in the world".
Polling data published by Reuters at the end of the campaign showed a close correlation between support for Maduro and Venezuelans' contact with the misiones, or social programs, established by Chávez, that provided everything from health care and subsidised food to college education. Capriles, who mostly attacked Maduro for not being Chávez, pledged to maintain and expand the misiones. But this was not sufficient to win over enough of the swing voters who, while numerous enough to determine the outcome, probably did not believe that a scion of Venezuela's wealthy elite who hailed from a rightwing party (Primero Justicia, or Justice First) would keep that promise.
Of course, it was not just the success of the misiones that won Chávismo another seven years of the presidency. There were major improvements in Venezuelans' living standards during the Chávez years. After the government got control over the national oil industry, poverty was reduced by half and extreme poverty by about 70%. Real income per person grew by about 2.5% annually from 2004 to 2012, and inequality fell sharply. Unemployment was 8% in 2012, as opposed to 14.5% when Chávez took office.
These numbers are not in dispute among economists or other experts, nor among international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF or UN. But they are rarely reported in the major western media.
In their ongoing efforts to delegitimise Venezuela's government, the punditry and press often portray the Chávistas as having an unfair advantage in these elections. But this election, like the presidential election in October, was conducted on about as level a playing field as any in the region. The Chávistas have the government, but the opposition has most of the wealth and income of the country, as well as the majority of the media. State TV has about a 6% share of the audience (and they actually aired Capriles campaign ads last week); and the opposition has a clear advantage in both print and radio. Compare that to Mexico's last two presidential elections, where the left-of-centre candidate had little chance against a rightwing media duopoly that determined the outcome of the election (if it wasn't stolen altogether in 2006).
Most of the Western press has been unsuccessfully forecasting imminent economic collapse in Venezuela for 14 years, and this theme has been prominent lately. The press, which relies almost completely on opposition sources, will be wrong again.
But the new government does face serious challenges, and the closeness of this election should be a wake-up call. It needs to fix the exchange rate system and bring down inflation, and resolve the problem of shortages – these three problems are closely related. Hopefully, it will resist the temptation to lower inflation and reduce imports by shrinking the economy – it is important to maintain aggregate demand, growth and employment, and the country very much needs more public investment in infrastructure. The economy has been growing for nearly three years now, after a downturn brought on by the world recession that ended in mid-2010; and until the last quarter of last year this accelerating growth was accompanied by falling inflation. It should be possible to return to this scenario with the right policies.
Maduro also pledged to bring down Venezuela's high violent crime rate, and some efforts have already begun. Governance and administration are the country's major weaknesses. It remains to be seen if the new government can meet these challenges.
Greg Wilpert on the election result
Gregory Wilpert is a sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he taught at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded Venezuelanalysis.com, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). He moved back to the US in 2008 because his wife was named Consul General of Venezuela in New York. Since returning to the US he has been working as an adjunct professor of political science at Brooklyn College. He was interviewed by the Reak News Network on April 15. Click HERE for the full transcript.
Right-wing disturbances and violence; 'general strike' a failure
Merida, April 16, 2013 -- Venezuelanalysis.com – This afternoon president Maduro said the opposition’s call for a general strike today had “failed”. He also blamed the losing candidate in the April 14 presidential election, Henrique Capriles, for the seven deaths last night. Maduro said the violence was part of a plan “to take Venezuela off the road of democracy”, and called on the people to be peaceful and not “fall for provocations”. He also declared “the coup d’état defeated” and inaugurated a health centre in Miranda state. However he said it seemed the “destabilisations will continue”. Though there has been no direct attempt to overthrow the government, some government authorities have referred to the opposition’s refusal to recognise the election results as a “coup” or part of an attempt to bring about a coup.
President of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena said yesterday that the electoral system functioned “perfectly” on April 14. She urged Henrique Capriles, who has not recognised the results, to use legal methods to present his complaints. Fifty-four per cent of the votes were audited on April 14 in the presence of booth witnesses from both political parties and no problems were found, but opposition protesters are demanding that 100% of the votes be recounted.
Telesur reports that according to CNE norms, the opposition have “twenty [working] days to contest the results, they can do it through the Supreme Court, or the CNE, but they should formalise it, and not do it through the media”.
“A majority is majority, and should be respected under a democracy, they shouldn’t seek ambushes and invent things in order to make popular sovereignty vulnerable... that has just one name, “coup-ism” [golpismo]”, Maduro said yesterday.
Seven people were killed on April 15 as a result of opposition violence; two in Caracas, three in Ojeda, Zulia, one in Cumana, and one person in San Cristobal.
The opposition set fire to 18 Central Diagnostic Centres (CDIs -– part of the Barrio Adentro health mission), and three subsidised food markets (Mercals). They also attacked the director of the CNE Tibisay Lucena’s house and the Telesur and VTV offices.
There are also unconfirmed reports of four attacks on housing mission buildings in Miranda, with seven people killed and 10 injured.
The governor of Carabobo state, Francisco Ameliach, reported that eight CDIs were “besieged” and Cuban doctors were attacked in his state. He said 64 people were detained inside the CDI and “should go to jail, because we’re not going to tolerate a coup d’état here”.
In Merida, around 700 mostly young opposition students protested outside the CNE, as well as in four other places in the city. Venezuelanalysis.com observed that police presence was light, and most police unarmed. Many of the students armed themselves with rocks and glass bottles however, as though hoping something would happen. There were similar such protests outside most of the country’s main CNE headquarters.
Many people have posted photos around social networks claiming they are of the CNE disposing of ballot boxes, though they are in fact of the CNE disposing of 2010 voting boxes, as the law requires. Media like La Patilla and RCTV have also used the photos.
Further, pundit Nelson Bocaranda tweeted that the “CDI in La Paz, Gallo Verde, Maracaibo is hiding some electoral boxes and the Cubans there won’t allow them to be removed”. Opposition television station Globovision has been arguing that “if they don’t want to count the votes, they must have something to hide”.
Capriles called for marches around the country to each state’s head CNE office for today, and for a large march lead by him tomorrow to the headquarters of the CNE in Caracas.
President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, reported through Twitter that he will propose an investigation to the assembly against Capriles for the acts of violence. Luisa Ortega said the public prosecutor’s office will investigate the seven confirmed deaths.
Further, the suspension of the right to carry arms in place during the election, as is the custom, has been extended to this Saturday 6 pm, following the April 15 violence.
State, municipal and national police are also confined to barracks until April 21. Police need permission from the National Bolivarian Armed Forces strategic operational command to intervene or act on any of the violence taking place.