Venezuela Between Assassination Plots and Abstention

Talk of assassination plots and rising concerns about a high abstention rate have marked the beginning of the November 23 regional elections race.

Talk of assassination plots and rising
concerns about a high abstention rate have marked the beginning of the
November 23 regional elections race.

Formally at stake are 23 governorships, more than 300 mayorships and
hundreds of representatives on the state legislative councils. However,
the result of these elections could also have an important impact on
the future of the Bolivarian revolution led by the Chavez government.

During the November 2004 regional elections, the pro-Chavez forces,
on the back of the thumping victory in the August 2004 recall
referendum on Chavez's mandate, painted the electoral map red as they
swept into 21 of the 23 governorships up for election (they later rewon
the governership of Amazonas to make it 22 out of 24 all up).

This time, Chavismo comes into the elections on the back of its
first electoral defeat. Last December, Chavez's proposed constitutional
reforms, aimed at increasing popular power and introducing progressive
measures such as a six-hour workday, along with some feature criticised
by Chavistas and all wrapped up in a confusing package of 69 changes
were narrowly defeated at the polls as a result of significant
abstention from Chavez's support base.

While in the 2004 elections, the right-wing US-backed opposition in
large part abstained, this time the opposition is united and urging

A lacklustre campaign, however, seems to indicate an opposition
that will be unable to fully capitalise on the momentum it built up
last year, when earlier this year it seemed they could win as many as
eight governorships.

Today, they may possibly win more states, but potentially stand to lose control of the strategic oil-rich state of Zulia.

"Get Hugo"

During a PSUV campaign rally in Zulia on October 12, security
authorities detained three men who breached the security perimeter.
According to an October 13 Venezuelanalysis.com article, "the men told
interrogators that they were paid by Fabian Masias, a campaign manager
for … A New Time", the party of current Zulia governor Manuel Rosales.

Following the incident, PSUV leader Jorge Rodriguez stated that
Rosales confessed to being linked to the men, saying they belonged to a
"group that attends all political activities to take photos and
evaluate the activity", Venezuelanalysis.com reported.

At the rally, Chavez denounced Rosales as "a coup monger" and
accused him of ties with paramilitary groups and the CIA. Chavez
declared he had documents in his possession that point to a conspiracy
to overthrow his government, with Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia, as
the coup plot's "epicentre".

The accusations follow on from the revelation in September of a
coup plot involving retired and standing military officials. A number
of caches of illegal arms have since also been uncovered.

The threat of assassination against Chavez is a very real one. As
the leader of a revolutionary process, backed by the mobilisation of
millions of the poor, which provides inspiration for millions more
around the globe, US imperialism and the domestic opposition are
desperate to get rid off him and the socialist revolution he leads.

Counter-revolutionary forces have already attempted a military
coup, economic sabotage, political destabilisation and an international
campaign to discredit and isolate the Chavez government. Today,
sections of the opposition believe the only way to get rid of Chavez is
to kill him.

Chavez continues to have tremendous mass support – a 75% approval
rating according to an IVAD poll in early October – reducing the
possibilities of removing him electorally to a distant dream.


However, asked if elections were held today for president, while
Chavez would clearly win, his support dropped to 51.4%, while 32.3%
said they would vote for the opposition.

When asked which party respondents supported, the PSUV came out on
top with 37% – less than half Chavez's approval rating. The other
pro-revolution parties that, with the PSUV, comprise the Chavista
Patriotic Alliance, got around 6% combined.

The opposition combined support only mustered up 24%. Meanwhile, 31% stated that they supported "independent candidates".

Asked how they felt about the general situation in the country,
49.6% believe it has improved and 44.3% believe it has worsened, while
56.5% believe it will improve, as opposed to 31.3% who think it will

In relation to the recent denunciations of a possible assassination
attempt, 24.1% responded that the statements were used to cover up the
scandal involving allegations that the government sought to help fund
Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner's election campaign, while
18.9% said it was just simply a lie by Chavez.

Only 37.7% said Chavez was speaking the truth – including 2.8% who
said not only did they believe it was true but supported the attempt to
kill Chavez!

Analysing these results, Ultimas Noticias editor Eleazar
Diaz Rangel wrote on October 20: "Who led the majority of Venezuelans
(43%) to believe that this denunciation was a lie by the government?
Well, without a doubt, the media."

Rangel when onto argue that the power of the media, more so than
the opposition parties or any other factor, helps explain why the
opposition has been able to maintain some 40% support since Chavez was
first elected in 1998.

The polls do seem to coincide with a reality in which the real
threat to the revolution in these elections is not from the opposition
votes but from abstention.

The fact that it is local candidates, not Chavez, that the voters have to choose will only increase this tendency.

Some in the PSUV national leadership are becoming concerned about
internal polling figures indicating that they do not have as many
secure votes as they had figured.

In response, special election campaign commissions have been
established in various strategic states, while regular meetings in the
presidential palace are closely analysing how to reverse this trend.

Chavismo's internal problems

Behind this phenomena is continued discontent with what many feel
as the lack of resolution of some of their most urgently felt needs. In
most cases, it is a discontent directed at local mayors and governors
whom many feel are not working with, but rather against, community
attempts to organise and resolve these problems.

Meanwhile, the lack of resolution of a rising number of labour
conflicts – particular in the state sector – has fuelled disenchantment
among workers. Two states that have Chavista forces worried are
precisely the two states where the industrial working class is

In many of these cases, it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion
that some in the government and state bureaucracy – at all levels – are
consciously working to stoke this dissatisfaction.

Moreover, in fighting to defend their privileges, candidates in a
number of places have actively excluded other forces within the PSUV
from being part of their election campaign.

In the states of Lara, Merida and Tachira, PSUV militants have
raised alarm over the fact that the PSUV candidate is supporting
candidates for mayors and legislative councils that are aligned with
them, but standing against the PSUV.

Lara state provides an example of why even many PSUV members are
planning to abstain. Earlier this year, the PSUV leadership announced
the expulsion of now-PSUV candidate Henry Falcon for initiating his
election campaign before having been preselected.

Announcing he would stand on another ticket, the PSUV backflipped and
claimed he had never been expelled, most likely due to his high
showings in some polls.

Instead, a manoeuvre occurred to drop popular left-wing Carora
mayor, Julio Chavez, from the list of candidates for preselection. A
rank and file rebellion forced the reappearance of his name of on the
ballot paper.

Having won internal preselection, Falcon moved to exclude Julio and
other opponents from his campaign team and set up another party on
which he is now running candidates for the state legislature – against
the PSUV.

And as the opposition puts the finishing touches to its unity
agreements for the key positions up for election, the Patriotic
Alliance seems more divided that ever.

Both the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and the Homeland for
All Party (PPT), part of the alliance, have launched rival candidates
against the PSUV in at least six states – in some cases supporting
candidates that failed to win preselection in the PSUV internal

With very little chance of winning, the most these candidates could
achieve is ensuring an opposition victory due to a split Chavista vote.

Reinvigoration of the base?

Despite the problems, the campaign has generated some positive features.

Through the process of elections for the PSUV national leadership,
and even more so with the participation of almost 2.5 million people in
Venezuela's first ever internal pre-selection vote for candidates, an
important re-engagement occurred between the PSUV ranks and a
leadership that seemed increasingly disconnected during 2007 and early

The election campaign has also breathed new life into the PSUV as
the party starts to move into action, bringing with it an important
core of activists that have been part of its construction.

In a number of places, the campaign has involved continuous
meetings between PSUV militants and activists from social movements and
community organisations to help design a plan for a "socialist"
municipal or state government.

This is not just occurring in the electoral sphere, either. With
the coup plot revelations, important mass meetings of the coordinators
of territorial defence commissions from each battalions were convened,
and an important mobilisation of the battalions occurred to discuss how
to prepare for a coup scenario.

A certain reinvigoration of the "hard" Chavista base seems to be
taking place – against the trend that developing in the recent period
and accelerated last year. However, this has not yet transformed into a
galvanising, cohering force capable of turning around the broader
situation of discontent and relative demobilisation and pushing the
election campaign forward towards a definitive victory.

It is likely that the "hard" Chavista vote, if fully mobilised,
would be enough to secure an important victory, with just a tiny number
of governorships falling into the hands of the opposition.

Once again forced to take the reins of the campaign to attempt to
turn the situation around, Chavez stated to a PSUV election campaign
launch, "What we are dealing with is not just a question of making
gains in the elections, it is about making gains at the level of
organisation – in the capacity for mobilisation, it is about increasing
revolutionary and socialist consciousness".

Such a victory could create "the necessary revolutionary
acceleration, a revolution within the revolution … a battle that we
need to have against deviations that still survive, a battle to the
death against corruption … against inefficiency, against bureaucratism,
a battle to give shape to the spirit of socialism."

Unfortunately, with less than a month to go in the campaign, numerous signals seem to point away from such an outcome.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #772 29 October 2008.

Source: Green Left Weekly