Following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez last March from cancer, who was never well enough to be inaugurated into his fourth term as president, another election was called. The two main candidates were Chavez’s successor, fellow socialist Nicolás Maduro, and the centrist Henrique Capriles. Capriles stood against Chávez in the 2012 Presidential election and won a respectable 44.3% of the vote, but few expected him to be able to have a realistic chance of winning this second election. One opinion poll suggested he would receive at little as 26% of the vote, though the Maduro’s divide seemed to narrow in the run-up to the election.
A lot was at stake for this election. It has been seen as a judgement on Chavez’s very own socialist ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, on whether Venezuela would continue down this route or perhaps adopt a more neo-liberal approach. I personally was rooting for Capriles, not because of his economic policies but because I believed he was the best option for democracy in Venezuela. As I commented when Chavez died, he had left behind a sketchy reputation for political freedom. Maduro seems worse. He has accused the USA of, somehow, being behind Chavez’s cancer, he has labelled the opposition ‘fascists’, he has expressed homophobic beliefs, and his political views have been described to be as extreme as Communist. It would surprise me to see a Venezuela under Maduro become a less ambiguous dictatorship, along the lines of Russia or Kazakhstan.
Maduro won, of course. However, I think most people were surprised to see the actual results: 50.66% for Maduro and 49.07% for Capriles. Far narrower than anyone expected! This is a cause for hope; although the lower-than-usual turnout will have harmed Maduro, who was hoping to play on Chavez’s intense popularity, it means that half the country does not want an autocratic, slightly insane ruler. Probably. Therefore, if Maduro were to attempt any shift towards a dictatorship – and I’m not saying he will – there will be more resistance. Capriles has refused to accept the results, demanding a manual recount after the votes were first counted by machines. I doubt this will achieve anything, but there is no harm in the opposition flexing its muscles.
Where will Venezuela go under Maduro? The next Presidential election is scheduled for 2019, which gives him six years in power. Anything could happen. Will the bubble burst? Will he consolidate political power? Could he actually be a good, democratic ruler? We shall have to wait.