[News] Understanding the Venezuelan Presidential Election Outcome
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 16 10:53:06 EDT 2013
Understanding the Venezuelan Presidential Election Outcome
Apr 15th 2013, by Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com
Things are chaotic here, as we recover from the surprise,
disappointment, and a bit of hurt from the election results, but also go
out in the street to express our support for those results, and to
defend the national electoral system, one of the best and most secure
voting systems in the world in a country which just loves to vote. We
move quickly from sad last night to concerned and determined today, as
the caceroles sound around the neighbourhoods and the opposition hangs
outside the National Electoral Council (CNE) here in Merida, hundreds of
them walking around with rocks and glass bottles in their hands, itching
to have something to react to.
Still, as the pan clanging sounds around my neighbourhood and people
shout "out! Out!" [referring to the government], making it just a little
hard to think, it is important to understand yesterday's results, as
that helps us to understand the situation we're in now, and plan
somewhat for the future.
With the vote count updated this morning; 99.17% of votes counted, we
see that 14,961,701 people voted this time, down just 214,552 from
October's presidential elections. That makes it clear that around
630-705,000 voters switched sides from voting for Chavez to voting for
Capriles. The Chavista vote went down from 8,191,132 votes last October
to 7,559,349 yesterday, and Capriles' vote went up from 6,591,304 votes
last year to 7,296,876 yesterday. Maduro beat Capriles then by 1.77% of
the vote- close, although other elections around the world have been
The question though that many are wondering, is why did those voters
switch to Capriles, rather than abstain? And secondly, how did the
difference between the two sides narrow so much in the last week, given
polls leading up to the election were predicting a 10-18% lead for Maduro?
It's not common for voting trends to change so quickly, especially in
the short amount of time that we had for this election. The election was
called for 5 weeks after Chavez died, and there were only 10 days
officially allowed for campaigning, though Capriles started his speaking
tour of the country straight away. However, this wasn't a common
election. It was brought about by Chavez's passing. It started with us
watching millions of people queuing to say goodbye to him, and frankly,
we felt confident. We had won in October and in the December state
elections, and we saw the outpouring of love for Chavez. The sense of
who we had lost was so profound, it was hard to imagine people
nonchalantly voting for his adversary in just over a month's time. Yet
over the last week, I felt the mood change. It seemed we started to get
just a bit tired, after a month's of campaigning and mourning, and that
Capriles' supporters became incredibly confident.
The campaign stakes became continuing the beautiful, dignified, and very
problematic revolution after Chavez, verses a tempting "change" after 14
years of Chavismo. Those who switched over, who chose "change", were
tempted by the *end to all problems* that Capriles promised. They
believed you can just vote away all the problems that have continued or
arisen over the last 14 years. They were short sighted and affected by
the sabotage, by the fairly intense food shortages over the last month,
the more frequent blackouts, and other problems that the private media
The choice, this idea of voting for a revolution, for the dignity of the
poor, and of the third world, was a lovely thing to get to vote on. Most
of us understood it wasn't about Maduro, about individual candidates,
but about revolution v capitalism and imperialism. Yet that sort of
campaign is not easy in a world where capitalism is still hegemonic.
That sort of campaign requires, I think, a higher ideological strength
of most Venezuelans.
The narrow victory draws our attention to some of the failures and
challenges of the revolution. Although Venezuelan political
consciousness, discussion, knowledge of history, interest in the media
and so on is so much higher than in other countries without a
revolution, the government has still focused too much on slogans, on key
words like "imperialism" and socialism, and not enough on broad
participation in debate and deepening political understanding. That was
reflected in Maduro's campaign, which focused on Chavez's memory, on
continuing basic government social achievements such as the missions,
but which de-emphasised just what Chavez stood for; his ideas, the
battle for humanity, for economic justice, etc.
Further, the government hasn't in the past, and didn't during this
campaign, explain the economic situation. It did not explain the
devaluation well (nor consult the people on such a big economic
decision, which might not have been a bad idea). We've gone 4 to 5
months without toothpaste in the shops, and we don't know why. Further,
the government either hasn't done anything about the situation (found
the hoarders, come down on Colgate for it, redistribute the hoarded
toothpaste) or hasn't told us what it has done.
When people lack a high political consciousness, it's easy for them to
become a little tired of no oil, or toothpaste, or margarine. Or the
price of beer doubling in a month. Or the occasional black out. The
government's communication with the people needs to improve drastically.
Further, in 14 years a lot has been addressed- we all know the list of
inspiring achievements, but some problems such as bureaucracy, crime,
and corruption persist, and it seems some people hope someone else will
Further, there is the idea of Chavismo without Chavez. According to a
GISXXI poll conducted a few weeks before the elections, 20% of Chavez
supporters believed there is no Chavismo without Chavez. While that is
positive, in that 80% understand that its up to us to take
responsibility and continue the revolution, that's 20% of the Chavista
support base who saw Chavismo as being about a specific leader, only,
and would therefore be vulnerable to swinging their vote. In Merida, the
rally for Maduro was about the same size (perhaps 10 blocks or so long)
as when Chavez spoke here before the October elections. It gave me hope
that most people understood that "we're all Chavez" means that we keep
fighting. I think it's the Chavez voters who don't attend such rallies,
and some of the bureaucrats, who would likely have switched sides. That
means we can be clearer now about our real support base.
Maduro's campaign itself had its challenges and weaknesses. Unlike
Capriles, who had already run in February (in primaries), and in
October, then in December to win as governor of Miranda, Maduro had
never campaigned before. He had little time to learn how to do it, and
to consolidate himself as a possible leader in people's eyes.
It has been a general strategy of the Chavez government to tone down its
radical and ideological discourse in the lead-up to elections, and
Maduro did the same thing. However in light of Capriles basically
promising an improved version of the social aspects of the revolution,
this time that might have meant that some people found it hard to see
the difference. Of course the difference is huge, but I think Maduro
failed to define what revolution without Chavez is. Rather than spending
40 minutes at the Merida rally talking about the bird that talked to him
and spirituality, he should have talked about the meat of this
revolution, its humanity, its solidarity -- things the opposition
doesn't understand and doesn't fight for.
On the other hand, this time round, from the side of the grassroots,
this campaign was much more creative. Around Merida, clever, beautiful,
and moving murals popped up everywhere. The PSUV youth painted huge
banners and stopped the traffic in different points around the city.
People worked really really hard.
The opposition however, had the advantage that it had been campaigning
well before Chavez died. Capriles, the Venezuelan (and international)
private media, opposition groups like Javu, began trying to delegitimise
the government, trying to create distrust of it- accusing it of lying
about Chavez's health and so on, since he became sick again at the end
of last year. We can see the accumulated affects of that campaign now,
as opposition supporters actually believe that fraud was committed in
yesterday's elections, despite them achieving their largest vote ever.
Once the elections were called and Capriles registered as a candidate,
he went on the offensive. After initially screwing up and insenstiveily
doubting the timing of Chavez's death, he then ignored Chavez altogether
(a good tactical decision for him) and attacked Maduro and the
government again and again.
While he insulted and lied about every aspect and person in the
government he could, at the same time his advisers seem to have given
him acting classes, as he began to impersonate Chavez in every which
way. In his speeches, he talked liked Chavez, he told anecdotes like
Chavez, he tried to sound sincere, as Chavez had been, and he promised
to do the same things the revolution was already doing, such as build
200,000 houses a year, and increase the minimum wage.
Capriles attacked the Supreme Court, then when elections began, the CNE
too, as though they are one and the same thing as the government. He was
aggressive about it, and promoted the idea that "we shouldn't accept
this anymore". At the same time, he blamed the food shortages on the
government, and I guess those who voted for him didn't wander why most
of the food shortages began during the election campaign.
All of this was massively backed up by private media (online,
television, newspapers) here and overseas, which not only added to
Capriles' legitimacy, but gave his supporters confidence.
"They're [the CNE and the government] burning the electoral boxes, the
ones with our votes it in," one opposition student told me today as they
protested outside the CNE.
"The government will fall, the government has fallen, we're not scared,"
they chanted, as they walked around with their rocks and glass bottles
in their hands, eager to have someone react so they could throw them
somewhere. But the police were few today, and peaceful, and the
Chavistas near the protest reacted a few times but largely were
disciplined and held back.
It's ironic that the extremely high turnout at the voting centres
yesterday illustrates Venezuelans' deep political interest and also
their trust in their electoral system, yet half of those Venezuelans
believe Capriles when he suggests that the CNE is biased or rigs the votes.
Capriles waged a dirty campaign, but for his aims, it was well done. I
remember one night a few days ago overhearing someone talking to their
girlfriend. "Don't worry, from Sunday things will be different," he
assured her. That time, it felt like the opposition's delusional belief
election after election that finally they'll win, had changed. It had
become a committed confidence, it had become a cause.
Although we technically won last night, even Maduro has recognised that
we also lost. Among other things, we wanted to send a message to the
world that this revolution goes on, yet the results show some doubt.
However, it is more complicated than that. We should recognise the
problems and challenges, but also feel some comfort that this time, 7
million people largely voted for the revolution of the poor to continue.
And they did that, despite most media being against us, despite the
distortions and lies, despite the minor, but real, economic hardships,
despite 14 years of marching and voting again and again, despite the
bureaucracy in the government. As one comrade of mine said, "Chavez got
us used to victories that were marvellously planned and masterfully lead
by him. This time it was up to us to do it alone, and we won". We can
only learn from here.
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