Chavez Supporters Won 80% of Local Offices in Venezuela

Pro-Chavez candidates won about 80% of the city council seats that were up for election last Sunday, more than doubling their representation in the city councils, where the opposition used to have a solid majority of seats.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 10, 2005 —Chavez’s party, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), along with other allied parties of the pro-Chavez coalition, won 80% of the city and district council seats that were up for a vote last Sunday. Of these, members of Chavez’s own MVR party won 58% of the seats.

The announcement of the number of seats pro-Chavez candidates won was made Monday by MVR National Assembly member Willian Lara, who explained that MVR candidates won 1,383 out of 2,389 city council seats. If confirmed, this means that MVR candidates won 888 more city council seats than they had won in the last local elections in December 2000, when they won only 495 seats. The successes of other parties in Chavez’s governing coalition, such as Podemos, PPT (Fatherland for all), and PCV (Communist Party of Venezuela) increase this margin further.

An examination of some of the city council elections shows that there was a trend towards class polarization, so that in middle to upper class Caracas neighborhoods such as Chacao and Baruta, where Chavistas lost seats to the opposition and in poorer Caracas neighborhoods, such as Sucre and Libertador Chavistas gained seats.

The only two states where pro-Chavez parties lost seats were in the Island of Margarita (Nueva Esparta) and Zulia, which are the same two states where they lost the state governorships in the October 2004 regional elections.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that the final figure for abstention in the local vote was slightly lower than first announced. According to CNE President Jorge Rodriguez, abstention was 68%, which is somewhat lower than during the 2000 local elections, when abstention reached a historical record high of 76%. If one takes into consideration 2 million more voters were registered to vote this time, participation increased by 50% relative to December 2000, from 2.8 million voters to 4.4 million voters.

The NGO Sumate, though, said that according to its calculations abstention was 78.1%. The group said it based its calculation on a representative sample of 350 voting centers, where it recorded how many people came to vote. It margin of error was 5.1%, said Sumate representative.

International observers, from electoral commissions of nearly all Latin American countries and from the organization CEPAL, said that the vote proceeded “completely normally.” The CNE “complied with democracy,” said the vice-president of the electoral commission of Colombia.

One of the main controversies of the vote remains the strategy of pro-Chavez parties to pursue so-called “twin” voting, where they encouraged voters to vote for the MVR party on the party vote and for the candidate nominated by the party UVE (Unity of Electoral Conquerors).

Since the voting system is modeled after the one in Germany, each voter gets to choose a party and a candidate. The results are then tabulated so that the seats are distributed according to proportional representation on the party vote, which counts for 40% of the seats and according to majority vote for the individual candidates, which constitute 60% of the seats in each council.

The MVR-UVE “twin” enabled pro-Chavez forces to win more seats than if voters had just voted for the MVR because winning MVR candidates would have counted against the proportional vote the party obtained. By running individual candidates on a different party ticket, pro-Chavez forces were able to win more seats than they otherwise would have.

The opposition argued that this “twin” strategy was unconstitutional, but neither the Supreme Court nor the CNE forbade it. Some opposition parties, such as the party of Zulia governor Manuel Rosales, used the same strategy to augment city and district council results.