New Mayor of Caracas, left, and Governor of Miranda
(with "inhabilitado" Leopoldo Lopez on the right):
To win they chiseled Chavez's popular base
Courtesy of REUTERS
PMBComment: November 23rd (23N) has brought another electoral setback for a thuggish autocrat too smart to do away with the last vestiges of democracy and too obtuse to understand the rumblings and messages from the electorate. After making a regional election all about himself and the renewal of his "XXI century socialism" mandate, Hugo Chávez cannot elude the glaring consequences of these latest contests. Winning the majority of state governorships -17 of 22 contested (with likely challenges in the works) - but losing the key ones - Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, plus Tachira, Nueva Esparta and the greater Caracas and Sucre municipal districts - cannot be spun as a victory by a man who campaigned as if his life depended on it.
It was in Zulia State that he promised to jail the outgoing governor whose hand picked pupil won, and in Carabobo he threatened "to pull out the tanks" if the opposition won and they did. In Miranda, he campaigned arduously for his perennial sidekick and former VP Diosdado Cabello only to see him lose to Cuban-foe Henrique Capriles, and in Caracas, his close ally Aristobulo Isturiz was defeated by a symbolic representative of the old guard, a former AD militant that only joined the race after Chávez forced his Supreme Court to disqualify the sure landslide bound and Harvard educated Leopoldo Lopez.
The main issue now is how is Venezuela going to function going forward. Hugo Chávez is a mid-level-mediocre-military-man whose sees the world in stark black and white: for him there are only glorious victories or ignominious defeats. He is lousy at sharing power and incompetent as an administrator. Dialogue with opponents is not his forte and I doubt it will come easily to him. Furthermore, a meltdown of public finances has already occurred in Venezuela but was covered-up in the run up to elections. Hiding the truth will only make the remedy and its purveyor all that much more intolerable in the uncertain days to come. We should expect the next few weeks to be tension filled as reality dawns on this uncouth coupster that his power base has be resoundly chiseled by an electorate exhausted of years of confrontation and certain that ruin is around the corner (if not already here).
Those around the world that continue to proclaim that Chávez is popular because of this - or that - should dig into the results of these elections. People can only be fooled part of the time, and only a few can be fooled all of the time. Those leaders in Latin America who have been cowered into complicity and silence should take a page from the defiant and valiant actions of millions of poor Venezuelans who have voted against the will of a ruthless blackmailer. Treating Hugo Chávez as anything but a seriously dangerous and increasingly unpopular leader would be a mistake. If he chooses to ignore the constitutional consequences of this trouncing I have no doubt that he will squander what little remains of his mandate and a power vacuum will materialize.
For the opposition, and more so for those who wrestled control from the chavismo, the main challenge will be to grab control of unaudited public apparatuses that need to be institutionalized in the midst of what will certainly be a period of fiscal scarcity and dangerous maneuvering by a chastened "revolution".
Venezuela must be congratulated for this against all odds show of faith in democracy. PMB
NOTE: These elections where not observed by that fatuous monstrosity called the Organization of American States and we did not miss them. For all the talk about their prowess in electoral missions it is clear that in kowtowing to Hugo Chavez the member states have negated its reason for existing and made a mockery of its Charter and the much celebrated Democratic Charter.