On September 26, Venezuelans again voted, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign saying to elect members to the 165-seat National Assembly. It happens every five years, and it’s the 16th national election or referendum since Chavez took office as president for first time on February 2, 1999.
Bolivarianism is always at stake, represented by Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). They were pitted against the opposition’s Table for Democratic Unity (MUD), an alliance hoping to deny Chavez a two-thirds super-majority. It was PSUV’s goal, campaign head Aristobulo Isrutiz saying pre-election:
“We’re not working for a majority, but for hegemony in the assembly. It would be a convincing victory to surpass 110 lawmakers.” Post-election, he said, “We put forth two-thirds as a goal and it was not possible to achieve it. But we are the majority,” though short of a three-fifths one needed to enact Enabling Laws giving Chavez temporary decree powers that are limited, not unrestrained.
How the enabling law works is described here.
However, organic laws or amendments pertaining to public powers, constitutional rights, or a framework for other laws require a two-thirds majority before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice rules on their constitutional status. For example, Chavez needs a super-majority to appoint public officials like Supreme Court justices and the attorney general.
In contrast, most enabling laws pertain to economic or fiscal regulation, support and control of enterprises, natural resources, and politically related issues, unrelated to foreign policy. They avoid bureaucratic red tape and facilitate greater citizen participation, but don’t grant dictatorial powers. They’re constitutionally allowed, run for 18 months, and four previous presidents had them under the 1961 Constitution.
Venezuelan polls are always conflicting, varying according to the takers’ bias, yet public opinion suggested a close vote.
The near-final results were good, but not enough for a super-majority as hoped. Having sat out the 2005 election, opposition gains were assured, though Chavez supporters hoped not enough to restrict PSUV control.
Results were as follows:
With three seats so far undecided, PSUV won 95 of the 165 legislative positions, a 58% majority that may increase, what US Democrats or Republicans call a landslide, aside from the popular vote little mentioned in presidential races. Only America’s Electoral College one counts, so it’s possible to win popular approval and still lose.
Indigenous Venezuelan communities always have three assured seats. One went to the Fundation for Integration and Dignfication, another to the Autonomous Movement of Zulia, and final one to CONIVE.
MUD won 62 seats, a 38% minority. The center-left Fatherland for All Party (PPT) won two seats. Unofficial popular vote totals suggest it was split about evenly between PSUV and MUD, but confirmation will have to await an official National Electoral Council (CNE) announcement.
PSUV won most seats in 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states, PSUV Vice President Elias Jaua saying:
“The revolution can count on a comfortable majority in the National Assembly….Few governments on our continent can count on such a comfortable majority of just one party. The opposition does not have any possibility, with this number of deputies, of reversing the legislative processes that have been completed or activating destabilizing mechanisms such as revoking public powers or impeaching the president.”
Both PSUV and MUD got five posts in the Latin American Parliament. CONIVE got one.
Despite heavy rain in parts of the country, turnout was high at 66.45%, below the expected 70% likely in good weather. Orderly voting proceeded with no major incidents, besides one voting center forced to relocate because of rain. It was done easily and trouble-free.
At a post-election press conference, PSUV’s Isturiz declared a “convincing victory and majority,” pledging new Bolarivarian reforms. On his Twitter site, Chavez declared a “new victory for the people,” though not what was hoped. Post-election, supporters were subdued, knowing they face a hostile parliamentary minority. Chavez, however, was upbeat, saying:
“Well my dear compatriots, it’s been a great election day and we’ve obtained a solid victory; enough to continue deepening the Bolivarian and Democratic Socialism. We need to continue strengthening the revolution.”
In a Monday night press conference he added:
The PSUV’s next initiative will include “the acceleration of programs of the new historical, political, social, and technological project.”
So far, even at a time of recession, Chavez’s approval rating remains high at between 55 – 60% – not shared by the corporate media.
Since first elected, Western media always treated him harshly, especially in America, notably (among others) by New York Times correspondent Simon Romero. Reporting post-election, he headlined, “Chavez Allies Win Legislative Majority, but Foes Make Gains,” saying:
The result “may open a new phase of negotiation and debate within Venezuela’s political system, (and) set(s) the stage for a potentially vibrant challenge by the opposition for the presidency in 2012,” when Chavez’s six-year term expires.
Though he admitted Chavez’s popularity remains high, Romero accused him and his government of having “used various methods to weaken opponents, including purging the Supreme Court of critical justices and stripping resources from elected opposition officials at the state and municipal level.”
Both charges are bogus. Chavez, in fact, reformed the high court by replacing corrupt judges with honest ones, doing it within the law democratically.
In the past, Romero equated him with Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, accused him of anti-semitism, and implied Venezuelans elected him because they wanted a dictatorship. He also slandered Chavez in other ways, including this time by quoting political analyst Oscar Schemel, saying he’s “supported by an extraordinary propaganda apparatus never seen before in Latin America, with the exception of Cuba.” An astonishing misstatement given the dominance of Venezuela’s corporate media, denigrating him far more harshly than Romero or most other US critics.
Electoral Stakes According to Latin American Expert James Petras
Petras knows Latin America as well as anyone, for decades writing honestly and incisively on the region. In his August 20 article titled, “Brazil and Venezuela: Two Turning Point Elections this Fall,” he explained the stakes, saying:
They’re “decisive(ly) importan(t) in (shaping) the direction of economic and foreign policy for the coming decade.” For Venezuela, at a time of economic recession, at stake is whether voters will reject “the procedural obstructionism of an increasingly hardline Right,” wanting to roll back progressive gains.
Given their large numbers, this year’s outcome hung on undecided voter choices, many among the poor and trade unionists. A decisive PSUV victory depended on whether “worker managed factory committees and communal councils” swayed them their way, despite “disenchantment with some (PSUV) candidates.”
Chavez, said Petras, “is the key to prospects for progressive social change in Latin America,” Bolivarianism having spearheaded impressive health, education and other social gains, helping Venezuela’s poor and low income sectors most. For the first time, they got important benefits, ones they don’t want diluted or lost.
Chavez also opposes US imperialism and “neoliberal policies of the pro-US hard Right.” In Brazil, Petras explained, “voting is for the lesser evil.” In Venezuela, it was for “the greater good,” not perfect but way better than the alternative.
Venezuela’s “electoral process is highly polarized along class lines,” the poor and lower class backing PSUV candidates, middle and upper ones for the opposition.
VSC explained that Assembly members “have power to pass legislation and also to block (some of) the president’s” initiatives if their opposition coalition exceeds one-third. The Constitution’s Article 187 also affords other powers, including:
improving the budget,
initiating impeachment proceedings against most government officials (including ministers but not the President, only removed by a national recall referendum),” and
appointing electoral, judicial, and prosecutorial government members.
Last August, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) officially opened electoral campaigning. Since 1999, the CNE conducted a national information initiative so voters know “every detail of a key aspect of exerting their (voting) rights….” As the Bolivarian Constitution’s Article 56 mandates:
“All persons have the right to be registered (to vote) free of charge with the Civil Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting evidence of their biological identity, in accordance with the law.” All citizens 18 or older may participate.
Included are eligible citizens located abroad. Once registered, none may be purged, obstructed, or prevented from voting or having their choices counted, unlike under America’s corrupted one-party state two wings system. Controlled by big money, it’s the best “democracy” deep pockets can buy, subverting populist interests for privileged ones.
In Venezuela, in contrast, enfranchisement is cherished under a system respected as the world’s fairest. As a result, over 11 million turned out to elect National Assembly and Latin American Parliament members. Though voting isn’t mandatory, turnout, under Chavez, has been impressive, compared to America where half the electorate often abstains, knowing the futility of changing policy without a total systemic makeover. No referendum provision, however, allows it.
Washington Supports Chavez Opposition
Throughout most of Chavez’s tenure, quasi-government agencies like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (ISI), USAID, and other US organizations have funneled millions to Venezuelan opposition candidates, the 2010 election no exception.
On September 9, Eva Golinger headlined, “US Interference in Venezuelan Elections,” saying:
An NED May 2010 report “revealed that this year alone, international agencies (mostly US ones) are investing between $40 – 50 million in anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela.” Most went to the opposition MUD coalition.
“There remains no doubt (that) the Venezuelan opposition – in all its manifestations – is (a) product of the US government. US agencies fund and design their campaigns, train and build their parties, organize their NGOs, develop their messages, select their candidates,” and funnel them money to survive.
In contrast, the US Federal Election Commission’s Foreign (FEC) Nationals Brochure states:
“The (1971) Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment.”
Foreign nationals are defined as the following individuals or groups:
Foreign political parties;
Individuals with foreign citizenship; and
Immigrants who do not have a ‘green card.’
A Final Comment
Venezuelans spoke and sent a message. Though mixed because of the divergence between the seat and popular vote totals, it affirmed approval for Bolivarian social reforms. Without a super-majority, however, it remains to be seen whether opposition obstructionism will change the equation enough to matter, and gain more strength against Chavez in 2012. Today he’d win easily, for sure also in 2012 against a hard-right opponent for privilege over anyone for beneficial social change.
Petras is right. Venezuelans now and ahead have a choice. They can go back to the bad old days or “vot(e) for the greater good” and keep their hard won social gains. Most Americans can’t even imagine them under a government serving everyone, not just society’s privileged the way imperial Washington does it for corporatists and militarists alone.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.