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The Survivor - Saurabh Kumar Shahi - The Sunday Indian
 
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Monday, December 18, 2017
 
 

The Survivor

 

The wafer-thin margin of win in the Venezuelan presidential elections means that Nicolas Maduro will have to deliver results in governance and fast
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: April 19, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Hugo Chavez | Venezuelan presidential polls | Nicolas Maduro | Henrique Capriles Radonski |
 

This was supposed to be an easy victory. But when it came, it turned out to be a bitterly contested one. One that brought in its share of worries and introspection.

Venezuela's interim President Nicolas Maduro has triumphed in the Venezuelan presidential election with 50.66 percent of the vote against 49.07 percent for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to the “first bulletin” results that were declared by the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, with 99.12 percent of the votes totaled, President Maduro had bagged enough votes to make his victory irreversible.

Of the total popular vote polled, Nicolas Maduro received a total of 7,505,338 votes, against 7,270,403 for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, with the margin of victory coming down to a wire-thin 234,935 votes. Total turnout was 78.71 percent, close to three percent down from the previous election last year when Chavez had easily trumped Capriles.

Of the 24 provinces and special territories, Capriles won a majority in eight, namely Zulia, Miranda, Lara, Anzoátegui, Táchira, Mérida, Nueva Esparta and Bolívar. Maduro bagged a  majority in the other sixteen. However, in contrast with the present election, in the October 2012 polls, Hugo Chavez had managed to easily win all but provinces of Merida and Tachira in the Andean region. And even in these two provinces, Capriles had barely managed to outsmart Chavez.

As this story goes to print, the opposition had refused to acknowledge the results and wanted a hundred percent manual audit of the results as opposed to 54 percent audit limit set by the National Electoral Council. President Maduro, on his part, immediately accepted the challenge. However, the Venezuelan electoral system is a wll-nigh fool-proof mechanism that consists of both digital vote recording as well as manual ballot punching. And that is why it is almost certain that the audit is not likely to change the numbers substantially.

Two of the biggest election observers' groups, The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) electoral accompaniment mission and OAS declared the process valid and asked the opposition to respect the results and the National Electoral Council. International Electoral Observers, a group of over 40 observers that were deployed by the opposition MUD coalition to observe the process supported MUD's demand of a manual recount but refused to call the process a fraud in a setback to the opposition. Under the circumstances, the National Electoral Council has declared Maduro, president-elect.

However, the results has shocked the Chavistas and has raised questions over the strength of the movement following the death of Chavez. Experts suggest there are several factors that led to the less than impressive performance by the ruling coalition.

The biggest factor is the media campaign. Contrary to the popular belief, the media in Venezuela is largely private and owned either by big corporation aligned to the opposition or in many case the opposition figures themselves. The government owned media has a viewership of merely six percent and it has, by law, to show the campaigns of both the candidates. The private media is not bind by any such restrictions and thus lead a spirited campaign against Maduro. In the past too, situation was not much different, but Chavez's charisma was enough to offset any campaign. Not Maduro's.

“Maduro’s campaign itself had its challenges and weaknesses. Unlike Capriles, who had already run in February (in primaries), and in October, then in December to win as governor of Miranda, Maduro had never campaigned before. He had little time to learn how to do it, and to consolidate himself as a possible leader in people’s eye,” says Ewan Robertson, a political analyst who keeps an eye on the Venezuelan politics and runs an analysis website.

Also, there are areas where Maduro's government will have to show improvements and fast. There appears to be a perennial shortage of some food and other items from the market. As most of these businessmen and suppliers are opposition supporters, the evidence suggesting sabotage did not came as a surprise. However, voters are not going to listen to excuses. If it is sabotage, it wants the government to crack down on them and make stringent laws in order to address the problems at hand. Similarly, other economic issues need to be explained to the people outside the margins of rhetoric. The setback will definitely make the government take notice.

“Most of the western press has been unsuccessfully forecasting imminent economic collapse in Venezuela for 14 years, and this theme has been prominent lately. The press, which relies almost completely on opposition sources, will be wrong again,” says Mark Weisbrot, a Venezuelan political analyst.

Also, there was a massive misinformation campaign launched by the opposition in order to confuse the voters. For example, Capriles, who has always opposed Bolivarian Revolution in the past, actually promised the voters that not only will he carry on the Missions program started by Chavez and will deliver as many as 2,00,000 new house every year, he also promised, again like Chavez, to raise the minimum wages. In fact, Capriles left no opportunity to tacitly make voters believe that he is sort of a successor to Chavez. This clearly confused many voters who decided to give chance to a known face as opposed to a relatively unknown ex-Foreign Minister.

The coming months will be crucial for Maduro and his coalition. He will have to deliver results in order to inject enthusiasm into his cadres who are showing signs of fatigue after continuous elections in the last six months. After all they have to take on a rather energized opposition cadres who, although bereft of any solid alternative governance proposal, have been boosted by this close result.   

saurabh.shahi@thesundayindian.com

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017