Venezuela with Two Months to Go till the Presidential Elections

With two months to go till the presidential elections on 7 October, the president, Hugo Chavez, continues to have a wide lead in the polls, while the opposition assures that its candidate has majority support.

By Alfredo G Pierrat - Prensa Latina

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Conservative candidate Henrique Capriles (left) and socialist candidate Hugo Chavez (right) (archive).
Conservative candidate Henrique Capriles (left) and socialist candidate Hugo Chavez (right) (archive).
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Almost all the poll companies coincide with a prediction of a win for Chavez, but with differences in how large his lead will be over MUD candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski vacillating between 15 and 30 percentage points.

Capriles emerged as the single candidate for the opposition in their internal elections held on 12 February, and all the groups that make up the MUD umbrella group committed to support him. However all indications are that the proclaimed opposition unity is far from being a reality.

The division in the opposition is evident in Capriles’ campaign events, where only the leaders of his party, the ultra right First Justice, appear, together with those of Popular Will, lead by Capriles’ political partner, Leopoldo Lopez.

Leaders of the older parties like Democratic Action and Copei, who spent decades sharing power in Venezuela, seem to have been left to one side in the presidential race of the representative of the main economic and financial groups of this nation.

However, various specialists agree that Capriles will get between four and five million votes in the October elections, not because he’s preferred by those voters, but rather because he’ll benefit from the vote against Chavez.

The broad agreement around the re-election of the president explains why certain opposition leaders are focusing more on the elections of state governors on 16 December instead of concentrating on the presidential ones, which many of them have already given up for lost.

That doesn’t stop legislator Maria Corina Machado [of the opposition] proclaiming, without any shame,  that the majority of Venezuelans are against Chavez, and Leopoldo Lopez [head of Capriles’ campaign team] stating that “on 7 October it will be proven that we have a majority of the votes, thanks to all the effort put in by Henrique Capriles and his team”.

Meanwhile, the opposition candidate proceeds with his electoral campaign with his customary walks in the country’s towns and suburbs, making speeches marked by their criticisms of the government and promises of progress that he doesn’t explain nor back-up.

In the opinion of socialist leader Aristobulo Isturiz, the behaviour of the opposition has been characterised by the absence of programmatic discourse and by a bunch of announcements that point towards the privatisation of PDVSA and the eradication of social programs.

“Every time he opens his mouth Capriles shows his level of immaturity and ignorance,” a known columnist of the Caracas press said today, and later indicated that the opposition candidate “would seem more capable if he stayed silent than he does expressing his opinion”.

In contrast, President Chavez has intensified his participation in his campaign, begun on 1 July and categorised by the leadership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as “positive and successful” because – among other factors- the presence of the head of state has energised the Venezuelan political scene.

“The whole country has been witness to the fervour that the president stirs up in the street, the affectionate connection the people have with Chavez, which is also seen in the polls,” said Isturiz last Monday in the name of the PSUV.

This fervour has been clearly seen in the nine large popular rallies that the head of state has headed up until now in the states of Aragua, Anzoategui, Lara, Guarico, Zulia, and Carabobo, and the Caracas districts of El Valle, Petare, and Antimano.

At all these events, the head of state has shown himself to be convinced of a victory on election day, and furthermore, alert to the need to avoid triumphalism, he has insisted on the importance of uniting forces in order to win by a large margin.

In that sense, Chavez has directed the PSUV cadre at all levels to intensify their work, street by street and house by house, and even to transcend the parties who support him and go out searching for the middle class and those who are undecided, with arguments and ideas.

In Antimano last Friday, he urged the middle sectors of society to unite themselves “to the people and to the fatherland, not to the bourgeoisie” when they vote and to not allow themselves to be tricked because, he assured, the government that he heads is “good for 90% of Venezuelans, for the popular classes and the middle class”.

That’s how the election campaign is going, day by day, in which almost nobody remembers that there are also five other candidates, who are predicted to receive thousands of votes, in the best of cases.

In this scenario, maybe what requires the most attention is the growing disrespect by the opposition of National Electoral Council (CNE) norms, with the intention of questioning and delegitimising them in an ongoing way.

This is about a tendency that some analysts attribute to the preparation of an environment in which they (the opposition) can denounce a supposed fraud when, as everything seems to indicate, Chavez is re-elected in October for a new period of government.

“It’s clear that the lack of acknowledgement of the CNE’s norms isn’t by accident, but rather forms part of a coup plot that is already activated,” said the journalist Toby Valderrama today in his regular column A Kernel of Corn, published in the Caracas newspaper Diario Vea.

Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com