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Opinion and Analysis: Politics

Venezuela's 2008 Regional Elections

Regional elections held in Venezuela on November 23rd have been portrayed in the U.S. media as a defeat for to the government of President Hugo Chávez, when in fact the results strongly favor his party, the PSUV. The vast majority of state governorships and mayoralties, including those in many strategic parts of the country such as the Orinoco Oil Belt, remain under pro-government leadership.

The majority of Venezuelan citizens voted for candidates aligned with the Chávez government. Due to this broad popular support, the PSUV and its allies won 77 percent of governorships and 80 percent of mayoralties. Even in Caracas, where the overarching metropolitan mayoralty went to the opposition, residents of the city's most populous district of Libertador elected a PSUV candidate as their local representative.

Voter turnout in the regional elections was a record-setting 65 percent. The electoral process was the 11th to occur in Venezuela in about a decade, and was deemed "peaceful and exemplary" by OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. He commented that the process was a powerful expression of the maturity of the country's democratic institutions as well as the trust that Venezuelans have in them. The National Electoral Council again proved its reputation for efficient and accurate electoral oversight by posting official results online less than 24 hours after the polls closed.

U.S. media coverage - including editorials in the Washington Post and New York Times - has ignored the facts enumerated below, points which are essential to understanding contemporary political realities in Venezuela.

Most Governors and Mayors Support the Chávez Government

The electoral map of Venezuela shows that pro-government PSUV candidates gained the majority of officies throughout the country. They won 17 out of 22 governorships, or 77 percent of the total. This is more than was claimed by PSUV governors and allies before the 2008 regional elections, at which point they held 15 states out of 22. PSUV candidates and allies also won mayoral posts in 81 percent of municipalities throughout the nation. Meanwhile, in at least four out of the five states where opposition governors were elected, the majority of mayoralties went to the PSUV (only Zulia is still to be decided). This means that local leadership favors the ruling political party overall. (Source: National Electoral Council, Embassy of Venezuela)

Most Venezuelans Live Under Pro-Chávez Local Leaders

As has been true for nearly a decade, the majority of Venezuela's population will continue to live in states with pro-Chávez governors. This is currently true for 57 percent of the country's population, while a smaller amount - 43 percent - have opposition governors. Some municipalities shifted to PSUV leadership by choosing a progressive leader for the first time during the tenure of the Chávez administration, including Valencia, an important industrial and manufacturing city in the coastal state of Carabobo. (Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Diario El Carabobeño)

The PSUV Achieved Victory in Strategic Areas of the Country

All states in Venezuela with strategic natural resources and industries elected PSUV candidates for governor, with the exception of Zulia in the West. This means that pro-government leadership prevailed in the oil-rich states of Anzoategui, Barinas, Bolívar, Monagas, and Delta Amacuro, some of which encompass the lucrative Orinoco Oil Belt. The state of Bolívar, in particular, also hosts the country's other important basic industries: hydroelectricity, aluminum, steel, iron, and petrochemicals. A majority of the mayoral races in these states also went to PSUV candidates. The PSUV won mayoral races in 15 out of 21 municipalities in Anzoategui, at least seven out of 11 in Bolívar, at least eight of 12 in Barinas, at least 12 of 13 in Monagas, and three out of four in Delta Amacuro. (Source: National Electoral Council)

Pro-Government Candidates Won by Wide Margins

In races for state governors, the opposition's five victories were claimed by far smaller margins than those earned by the PSUV, which clearly dominated in the remaining 17 states. This is a key difference. Opposition candidates won by margins of just 10 percentage points or less in four of those states (as low as 1.3% in Tachira and 3% in Carabobo), and won by 15 percentage points in the fifth state (Nueva Esparta). In contrast, the 17 pro-government victories were more decisive overall. Candidates supporting the government won by roughly 50 percentage points in two states, 30 percentage points in five states, 20 percentage points in four states, and 5 to 10 percent in six more states. (Source: National Electoral Council)

Residents of the Largest Caracas Municipality Voted for the PSUV

Although the mayor for metropolitan Caracas went to the opposition, Libertador, the city's most heavily populated district - home to 1.7 million residents - elected the PSUV's municipal mayoral candidate Jorge Rodríguez. Libertador is by far the largest of the five urban districts in Caracas. The PSUV won this election by a wide margin of 12 percent, earning 106,487 more votes than the opposition's candidate. (Source: National Electoral Council)

Even in Opposition-Controlled States, Key Municipalities Went to the PSUV

The assertion that nearly half the country will be under the leadership of the opposition is incorrect. In states where the governorships went to the opposition, a large number of the mayoral seats went to PSUV candidates or their allies. The opposition won the governorship in Carabobo, Tachira, Nueva Esparta, Zulia, and Miranda. In the state of Carabobo, the opposition only managed to win two of the mayoral races, while the PSUV won 11 mayoral races. In the state of Nueva Esparta, 6 of the 11 mayoral races went to the PSUV. In Tachira, the PSUV won at least 15 of 29 mayoral races. In Miranda, they won at least 14 of 21 races. (Source: National Electoral Council)

Venezuela's Electoral Authority Handled Record Voter Turnout

The regional elections saw a record-setting 65.5 percent voter turnout. Of the 16.8 million registered voters in Venezuela, roughly 11 million went to the polls. This is a record for the country, and likely among the highest rates of voter turnout in local elections anywhere in the hemisphere. Despite this, the National Electoral Council (CNE) managed the influx at the polls and made results of the voting available online through its website just hours after all of the 11,297 polling stations closed. This was made possible by the electronic voting machines used in Venezuela, which have been praised as among the most advanced and accurate in the world. The CNE presents results broken down by candidate for each state and municipality in an easily accessible format. (Source: Embassy of Venezuela, National Electoral Council)

Unfortunately, despite the extensive records available on the CNE website, many media outlets in the U.S. have failed to report accurately on the results of the regional elections. One example is the claim made in a Wall Street Journal article and a New York Times editorial on November 25th that more than half of Venezuela is under opposition control, which, according to the official statistics presented here, is simply not true.