It is just six weeks until Venezuela’s October 7 presidential election pits incumbent Chavez and his pro-revolution Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) electoral alliance against his main rival Henrique Capriles.
Capriles heads the right-wing opposition bloc, the Democratic Unity Forum (MUD).
Chavez’s campaign has reached fever pitch in recent weeks with the president touring the country and holding huge election rallies nearly every day. Both candidates officially launched their campaigns in early July.
Chavez’s energetic oratory has boosted the hopes of his supporters his statement in the first week of his campaign, that he was “totally free” of cancer, is true.
Polls over the past year have consistently shown that Chavez is set to overwhelmingly win the election. The most recent poll, for example, conducted by the 21st Century Social Investigation Group (GIS XXI), has Chavez at 56% of the vote against Capriles’s 30%. This is an even bigger margin than the vote Chavez received in the 2006 presidential poll.
Behind the raw figures lies an even greater strengthening of the revolutionary socialist project headed by Chavez. The opposition is riddled with political contradictions and is united simply by a virulent hatred of Chavez, but support for Chavez has increased qualitatively with a growing support for the deepening of the socialist project.
The GIS XXI survey found that, of Chavez 56% support base, 40% is “hard” support with 16% “soft”. Of Capriles’s 29%, 20% is considered “hard” and 9% “soft”.
Jesse Chacon, GIS XXI president, said: “If you ask Venezuelans today if they believe in socialism, more than 50% say yes.”
This sustained and “hardening” support for Chavez and the revolution he leads is driven by social and political gains for the poor majority. The continued broadening of people's power and growing socialisation of the productive apparatus at the behest of the poor has earned this support.
As a result, a recent UN-commissioned study found Venezuela to be the happiest nation in South America.
The presidential elections in Venezuela have the appearance of capitalist elections everywhere — a contest of two personalities for the spoils of power. But the context makes these elections something different.
Chavez's campaign — of which the largest force in the GPP is the millions-strong United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — has turned the election campaign into a full-scale revolutionary mobilisation.
At every one of the many cities and towns where Chavez has held rallies, he has used the opportunity to do more than solicit votes. He has conducted hours-long speeches and discussions, addressing local issues and unveiled new infrastructure works.
But most importantly, he has explained and argued for his his 40-page platform, the “Proposal of the Homeland’s Candidate Comandante Hugo Chavez for Bolivarian Socialist Management”. It is a program for socialist political and economic transition.
Capriles’ campaign has, in marked contrast to that of Chavez, focused on petty personality politics, juvenile stunts and even criminal fraud.
Perhaps most infamously, Capriles posted on his Twitter page a document supposedly issued by the Chavez government to prohibit the military barracks from watching a Capriles’ speech on private television. The document was quickly revealed to be a clumsy forgery.
Another recent rallying point for the opposition has been Capriles’s refusal to remove his Venezuelan flag baseball cap. He was asked to remove by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) as it is a violation of electoral campaigning regulations to use national symbols in electoral campaigning.
Chavez was also issued with warnings over similar breaches, with which he has complied.
Capriless campaign has followed a contradictory line in relation to the CNE. Some of his campaign staff have labelled the electoral body a “tool” of the Chavez government that is not to be trusted. Others have affirmed its independence and fairness.
Capriles’ dire electoral outlook has compelled him to mimic several aspects of Chavez’s campaign.
Not only has he been ridiculed for copying some of Chavez’s signature mannerisms and style, he has also been forced by popular will to support some key sections of Chavez’s program.
These include features of the revolution such as it social “missions” — the government-funded organisations that supply free education, medical care and a whole host of other services to the Venezuelan population.
Capriles claims he will maintain the missions. However, his own past practice as former governor of Miranda state belie this position, as he tried to shut down the healthcare mission in the state and drive out the Cuban doctors stationed there to offer free medical attention to poor Venezuelan citizens.
Capriles also pledged to reverse the Chavez government’s socialisation of Venezuela’s giant oil company PDVSA — the company that funds the social missions.
Where he has diverged from Chavez’s program, Capriles has attacked the revolution from a national-chauvinist point of view. He has condemned Chavez’s solidarity aid and preferential supply of oil to other countries, especially Cuba, and pledged to overturn the policy.
Faced with the prospect of yet another crushing defeat at the ballot box, the frustrated Venezuelan right wing has little room to move. Venezuela Analysis journalist Tamara Pearson said the MUD camp has fractured three ways regarding strategy.
Pearson said: “Some of the MUD support base has given up on the presidential elections and are turning their focus to the regional elections in December, some want to play democratic and by the rules, and others see more hope in creating disturbances and engaging in low tactics.”