The exact overall difference between those who support the revolution, and those who are against it, depends on how you read the numbers. There are three different ways to do that: according to each organisation’s vote on its own, according to the candidates’ votes (as most Chavista candidates were supported by multiple organisations), and according to candidates’ politics, where independents may support one side or another, or where there were split votes (with the PCV running against the PSUV for example, but both are counted as being pro-revolution).
Going through the results respectively (mostly based on the first bulletin, with 97% of votes counted): In the first instance, the PSUV as an organisation got 4,584,477 votes, or 44.16%, the MUD got 40.96%, the PCV got 1.6%, and other organisations got 13.36% of the vote. In the second instance, PSUV candidates, supported by a range of organisations, received 5,111,336 votes, or 49.24%, and the opposition candidates, supported by the MUD and by other opposition parties, got 4,435,097 votes, or 42.72%, and others received 8.03%. In the last instance, one divides the “others” in to pro-revolution, and against the revolution. According to President Maduro, that makes the spread 54% pro revolution to 45% against it, though of course these numbers are more subjective, depending on one’s interpretation of each independent and small party’s politics, and verifying those numbers would involve going through thousands of individual candidate results.
On a municipality basis, the PSUV won outright, as it has much more support in the more rural and poorer areas, while the opposition’s support is almost entirely concentrated in the wealthier areas of the big cities. So far out of a total of 337, the PSUV has won 210 municipalities, the MUD 53, other parties 8, and the rest are still undecided. The opposition won by some decent margins in some of Venezuela’s biggest cities, with 67.6% of the vote in San Cristobal, 63.88% of the vote in Merida, 55.87% in Carabobo, 51.8% in Maracaibo, and 50.81% in Metropolitan Caracas. Caracas was clearly quite close, and the PSUV won Libertador municipality, Caracas, with 54.55%. Detailed CNE results can be found here.
Whichever numbers you use though, the revolution clearly won. Further, despite being local elections, because of the political weight they were given, particularly by the opposition, the results consolidate Maduro’s leadership. The number breakdown is also very consistent with results for other non-presidential elections over the last 7 years or so.
Media still parrots Capriles, and the question of where to now for the opposition
After the results were announced just after 10pm last night, Henrique Capriles, who had basically abandoned his job as Miranda governor and had been campaigning for the opposition, tweeted the following; “2014 is looking like a very difficult year for Venezuela, and we’ll be there with you all to look for ways out of the economic chaos”. He also tweeted repeatedly, “No one is the owner [head] of Venezuela, the country needs unity, dialogue...we have a divided Venezuela”.
Private English and Spanish media parroted his analysis, with AP headlining “Split results in Venezuela mayoral elections” and referring to the election results as a “political stalemate”. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “Venezuelan Vote Reflects Deep Divide” and BBC World in Spanish, “Venezuela is still divided”.
Nevertheless, most mainstream international and Venezuelan media was forced to recognise that the PSUV won yesterday’s elections, and fairly. The Guardian and Reuters headlined “Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro cements power with victory in elections” and noted, “President Nicolás Maduro's party won the most votes in Venezuela's local elections on Sunday, disappointing the opposition and helping his quest to preserve the late Hugo Chavez's socialist legacy.”
So that leaves us wondering what the opposition will do now. They tried a coup in 2002, and since around 2005 they have tried a more indirect, psychological war approach, whilst pretending to accept some of the revolution’s main facets and demonising it at the same time, and lost again and again, with the exception of the 2007 constitutional referendum. I repeat- they have lost 18 out of 19 elections in the last 14 years. The death of Chavez, and their economic attacks this year have been the best chance they’ve had, yet even under those conditions around 5 million Chavistas have stayed strong. With their “electoral fraud” angle looking pathetic, what will they do now? Will they wait and maintain their attacks, until attempting a recall in 2016, which they may not win?
A significant victory in difficult circumstances
I remember the April presidential elections, walking past the Libertador high school in Merida at night after booths had closed. There were two large military tanks parked outside it. Perhaps 200 people from both sides had gathered there and were exchanging chant attacks. It was tense. The opposition was alleging problems in the vote counting in the booth. This time, I went back there, and children were playing out the front of the booth on bikes and roller skates. The booth witnesses from both camps were waiting to go in, but it was calm, they joked together, and when the booth closed, they clapped. The opposition’s strategy and discourse of violence, hate, fear, and tension, had an impact in April, but despite maintaining it through to these elections, it has been unsustainable in the long term.
Furthermore internationally, these elections largely nullify their claims of fraud and an unreliable electoral system. Praise for Venezuela’s system is high and ongoing, and the participation rate this time was 59%, despite the elections being local only, being held close to Christmas and school holidays, and despite being the fourth in 14 months, speaks to the people’s faith in the system. According to Bipartisan Research Centre, a smaller percentage of eligible voters turned out to the US’s 2012 presidential elections.
More importantly, this is an electoral victory after exactly 1 year without Chavez at the helm, and after almost a year of higher inflation, some scarcity, ongoing media attacks and a psychological war, as well as an almost nationwide blackout last week. The 5 million who voted for PSUV candidates are politically consistent, strong, and prove that this is a socialist project, not something that can be reduced to the charisma of Chavez, as the media tried to do.
Victory at what price?
Yet the numbers from yesterday are limited in their ability to measure the strength of the actual revolution. Let’s not forget how many of the PSUV candidates were chosen- without any consultation, by the state governors, usually. Many activists resented that, but voted for PSUV candidates in order to safeguard the revolution in general. Also, in the long term we’d like to see the mayors have less and less power and resources, and the communes and councils more. The elections are one type of battle, but it could be argued the national economic and class one is even bigger. Maduro’s response to the economic attacks and the generally greedy profiteering of the business class has been firm. Their attacks and his response has seen an increased class consciousness, as the economy becomes an even more tangible part of our everyday lives, rather than just something for the experts to chat about. People are quite politically clear, and are angry, but there’s been a disappointing lack of increased class organisation, or organisation to defend our economic rights. There has been some, but the situation warrants more. I think many people fortunately and unfortunately believe the government will solve it all.
We have two years till the next elections; national assembly ones in 2015. Hopefully now we can focus our energy and time less on electoral campaign tents and posters and word battles with the opposition, and get down to consolidating the communes, councils, national and democratic production and distribution, land and indigenous rights, gender and sexuality issues, pro-environmental measures, and the participatory organisation of those who support the revolution. All these things are outlined in the Socialist Plan 2013-2019. There is the political will, now let’s see now if we have the political determination.