Mérida, August 17th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – As candidates from the pro-government United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition United Democratic Roundtable (MUD) sharpen the focus of their campaigns for Venezuela’s 165 National Assembly seats, recent polls indicate the PSUV is on track to win at least a solid majority in the September 26th vote.
The PSUV, which is headed by President Hugo Chavez, and the MUD, a coalition of opposition parties, constitute the two main political blocs that are presenting candidates for the National Assembly. Both blocs have focused their campaigns on either approving or disapproving of President Hugo Chavez and his project of building “21st Century Socialism,” rather than specific legislative agendas.
Members of the PSUV’s 36,000 local patrols, each of which consists of between 10 and 50 party activists, are in the midst of a nationwide, door-to-door campaign to spread word about the Chavez government’s achievements over the last 11 years. The canvassers highlight increases in education enrollment at all levels, access to free health care, food consumption, life expectancy, and mass political participation through communal councils.
The canvassers encourage all PSUV members to vote in order to continue these advances, which they call the “Bolivarian Revolution.” The PSUV is by far the nation’s largest party with more than 7 million members (in a country with approximately 17 million registered voters), so it has a major electoral advantage if it succeeds in mobilizing its massive base.
“In these moments, we are drawing up an electoral map at the national level that consists of direct contact with each voter to detect those who have decided to vote for the Bolivarian formula of revolution, those who are opposition, and the neither-nors,” said Aristóbulo Istúriz, chief of the PSUV campaign, in a press conference on Tuesday.
In the 2005 National Assembly Elections, which opposition parties boycotted amidst predictions of imminent defeat, an estimated 3.67 million voters cast ballots for Chavez’s party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic, and an array of other pro-Chavez parties that had yet to be united into the PSUV. Last May in the PSUV primaries for the upcoming elections, 2.5 million party members cast ballots.
PSUV candidates have also stepped up their participation in the media to combat what they call the “false propaganda” of the opposition, which has used its vast media reach to highlight persistent problems such as crime and corruption within government institutions.
PSUV candidate Tania Díaz, who is the Minister for Communications and Information, told the state-owned National Radio of Venezuela that in the face of the opposition’s media campaign, “we must confront it and dismantle it with solid arguments; here in Venezuela, we have a population that wants to participate, a people that is politically educated for the discussion of ideas that we should have.”
If PSUV candidates retain control of the legislature this year, they are expected to continue implementing President Chavez’s agenda for “21st Century Socialism,” including efforts to accelerate land redistribution, promote gender equality, improve communal council management, promote communes as an alternative to representative city government, and impose stricter regulations of the banking and finance system.
In early August, MUD candidate Benjamín Ezaine announced in a press conference that the “principal theme” of the opposition’s campaign would be the issue of citizen insecurity, particularly the homicide rate, which has increased over the last ten years, although there are different estimates of the scale and causes of the increase. “The amount of deaths is so alarming, it is like living in a war,” said Ezaine.
Julio Borges of the opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First), a member of the MUD coalition, told the press recently that the total amount of homicides committed in the country increased from 4,550 in 1998 to 16.047 in 2009, and that Caracas is Latin America’s second most violent city with 140 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Borges did not cite the source of these statistics.
Murder and crime rate estimates range widely, even among opposition groups. According to the Research Institute of Citizen Security and Coexistence, a Caracas-based non-government research institute that focuses on crime issues, the national homicide rate in 2009 was 49 per 100,000 inhabitants, an increase from the 1998 level of 18 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs reported an 11% decrease in the national homicide rate over the first five months of this year compared to the first five months of 2009. It also reported a decrease of 60% in the homicide rate in specific neighborhoods of Caracas where the government deployed a new National Police Force earlier this year.
As part of the opposition’s electoral campaign, national daily newspapers aligned with the opposition regularly publish front-page articles on crime and print gory photographs of bloody bodies at murder scenes.
Last Friday, the newspaper El Nacional printed a color front page photograph of corpses in a Caracas morgue under a headline about the high number of illegally possessed weapons in the country. PSUV officials responded to the incident by accusing the newspaper of “journalistic pornography” and calling it an attempt to frighten the public about crime. The Attorney General’s office opened a legal investigation and obtained a Caracas court order prohibiting such bloody images in news media, under Article 79 of the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents.
Recent voter opinion polls by firms considered to be sympathetic to both political camps indicated ongoing strong support for the PSUV in most states, as well as a substantial population of undecided voters, also known as “neither-nors.”
According to the editor of the newspaper Últimas Noticias, Eleazar Diaz Rangel, a recent voter opinion poll by Datanalisis, which is considered to be sympathetic to the opposition and private business interests, the PSUV is likely to win 124 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition is likely to win 41 seats. PSUV candidates are projected to win all of the National Assembly seats in four states, while the opposition is projected to win the majority of the seats in two states, half the seats in Miranda state where Caracas is located, and only one seat in eight other states, according to the study.
Datanalisis did not publish the results of the poll on its website and merely commented that these results were too old to be of value at this point in the campaign. An opposition spokesperson of the MUD, Walter Marquez, though, argued that the poll was actually an analysis that was based on different assumptions, some of which are favorable to the government and some are favorable to the opposition.
Últimas Noticias reported similar poll results released by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD), which is considered to be pro-government. The poll found that in Anzoátegui, a strongly pro-Chavez state, 43.7% of respondents plan to vote for the PSUV, while 38.7% support opposition candidates. In Miranda state, where support for Chavez has slipped in recent years, 34% said they would vote for the PSUV while 35% favored the opposition, with the rest of the population undecided.
A polling firm with close ties to the government, GIS XXI, carried out polls in March, May, and June which indicated that support for the PSUV and its ally, the Communist Part of Venezuela, added up to 32%, 36% and 44% in those three months, respectively, and support for the opposition was 22%, 23%, and 20% during those three months. Also, voter turnout estimates hovered around 70% in the GIS XXI polls.
Polling firms in Venezuela are not systematically regulated or monitored for accuracy, and in the past they have produced notoriously inconsistent, subjective, and inaccurate results. The director of Datanalisis, Luis Vicente Leon, regularly makes anti-Chavez statements to opposition media, and the current director of GIS XXI is Jesse Chacon, a long-time Chavez ally and former Communications Minister. It is somewhat uncommon for polling firms associated with distinct political camps to concur on predicted results.