Venezuela’s Opposition Evaluates Another Major Defeat

As pro-Chavez candidates celebrated their victories in 20 of 23 states in Sunday’s regional elections, opposition leaders attempted to explain what led to such an overwhelming defeat for their gubernatorial candidates.

By Chris Carlson
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Henrique Capriles (Prensa HCR / Daniel Lara)
Henrique Capriles (Prensa HCR / Daniel Lara)

Punto Fijo, December 17th, 2012 ( – As pro-Chavez candidates celebrated their victories in 20 of 23 states in Sunday’s regional elections, opposition leaders attempted to explain what led to such an overwhelming defeat for their gubernatorial candidates.

Leaders of Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) immediately claimed an “immense victory” for their side after initial results were given late Sunday night.

“This was an immense victory. The people responded faithfully to Chavez’s call to action,” said PSUV’s campaign head Jorge Rodriguez at a post-election press conference.

The PSUV candidate for the western state of Zulia, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, called it a “perfect victory” and directed his comments to President Chavez, saying, “President, we completed the mission.”

Opposition leaders were much less enthusiastic about the results, despite having won their most important battle in the central state of Miranda, with opposition leader Henrique Capriles being re-elected governor there.

“I am happy for Miranda, but I can’t be happy for Venezuela,” said Capriles during his victory speech Sunday night.

Various opposition leaders pointed to low turnout as a reason for the results, while others claimed the government had used unfair campaign tactics such as inaugurating various public works and handing out gifts in the days before the election.

“[The government] used public funds through corrupt practices,” said the general secretary of the opposition’s MUD coalition, Ramón Aveledo, insisting that this put the opposition at a “disadvantage” in the elections.

“In Miranda they tried to blackmail our people. I saw it and so did our regional leaders,” said Capriles.

Capriles also claimed in his victory speech that the government had used President Chavez’s health problems to their advantage.

“They took advantage of the circumstances, and asked people to vote for Chavez’s health,” he said.

The forty year old governor of Miranda was clearly solidified as the leader of Venezuela’s opposition after Sunday’s victory, something that may have been called into question had he lost his re-election bid.

Opposition forces see Capriles as their most likely chance of winning the presidency if President Hugo Chavez is unable to recover from cancer and continue as president.

“Here we’ve already beaten two vice-presidents,” said Capriles, referring to his 2008 victory over then vice-president Diosdado Cabello, and Sunday’s victory over former vice-president Elías Jaua.

“The change we want is close. You can feel it in the air,” he said.

However, some opposition voices called on the opposition to reflect on the reasons for their defeat and make changes for future electoral battles.

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma said that it was time for the opposition to “reinvent ourselves”, whereas Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) head Ramon Aveledo said the opposition “must make profound changes.”

“In January we will have meetings to reflect on the opposition defeat. We have to make profound changes,” he said.

Despite having retained control of the opposition-stronghold of Miranda, the opposition lost control of 5 states that they had previously held.

In addition, the other two states claimed by the opposition this time around, Lara and Amazonas, were both due to the re-election formerly pro-Chavez candidates who went over to the opposition during their last term.

Some analysts saw the defeat as the result of fundamental problems with the opposition parties, such as their leadership and political project.

“We have long maintained that the opposition lacks identity, vision, and proposals,” said Oscar Schemel, head of the private pollster Hinterlaces.

Pro-Chavez electoral analyst Hector Davila assured that the opposition will continue to lose if they do not make changes to their political project.

“They haven’t been able to comprehend that the majority of Venezuelans want a political project that makes social programs and social spending a priority,” he said.

“If they can’t understand that, the results are going to be the same in future elections,” he said.

High abstention seemed to adversely affect opposition candidates as well. Initial results showed turnout of 54% compared to 65.5% in the 2008 state elections.