HAVANA TIMES, Sep 27 (IPS) – The vigorous comeback of the opposition in Venezuela’s newly elected parliament strengthens pluralism in this oil-rich country, although it may presage a new political crisis in the medium term, according to analysts.
With almost 99 percent of the ballots counted, the electoral branch announced that the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its small ally, the Communist Party, won 98 of the 165 seats in parliament, compared to 63 for the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD).
Two seats were taken by Fatherland for All (PPT), a leftwing party that broke away from President Hugo Chávez earlier this year, and two further seats were still too close to call after Sunday’s elections.
In terms of actual vote counts, however, 5,448,864 ballots were cast for MUD (48 percent of those counted so far) compared to 5,259,998 votes (46.4 percent) for the PSUV and its ally. The PPT got 330,260 votes (2.9 percent) and the rest went to small parties, mostly opposed to Chávez, or were blank or spoiled votes.
The authorities said voter turnout was 66.45 percent of the 17.6 million registered voters in this country of 28.8 million people.
MUD coordinator Ramón Aveledo said “the Venezuelan people have spoken.” Combining all the votes not cast for the governing party, he added: “the opposition comprises 52 percent of the electorate, and the present parliament (which ends its term of office in January) no longer represents Venezuela: it should not, and morally and politically cannot, take legislative decisions.”
In reply, Aristóbulo Istúriz, a PSUV lawmaker-elect and head of the party’s electoral campaign, said: “we are going to legislate right up to the very last day, so be prepared. We did not reach our target of two-thirds (of the seats) but we won a resounding victory.”
Another victory for the people
President Chávez wrote in his Twitter account that the elections were “another victory for the people,” and said “we must keep on strengthening the revolution.”
Political analyst Eduardo Semtei said Chávez would “keep his foot on the accelerator” and drive ahead with his initiatives for changing Venezuelan politics, economy and society, which will lead him into fresh conflicts with the opposition.
Sociologist and professor of political sciences Carlos Raúl Hernández told IPS “a political crisis is looming, possibly within the next few months, because the part of society that opposes Chávez’s project will be emboldened by this electoral success, and will react when measures are taken against it.”
According to Hernández, “at the risk of falling into clichés, what has happened in Venezuela can be termed historic, because the country is bringing to a halt and wrecking — at the ballot box — the project to exhume and renew communist-style socialism, after its demise as a Western cultural phenomenon in the last century.”
For the consumption of the public and of international opinion, the opposition will try to maintain its campaign slogan, “we are the majority,” while the government and its allies will take their stand on legal formality and the control the president’s followers exercise over nearly all the levers of political and economic power, nationally and regionally.
In parliament, the government will not have the two-thirds majority that Chávez had aimed for as his party’s necessary electoral goal. A two-thirds majority is required to pass certain laws, as well as to reconfigure the political, economic, social and institutional architecture of the country.
A two-thirds majority is also needed to appoint or remove magistrates from the Supreme Court, and officials from the electoral branch (CNE) and the citizen’s branch, made up of the Offices of the Attorney General, the Comptroller General and the Ombudsman, controlled by Chávez’s followers.
Attempt to reverse Chavez’s power
Former socialist leader Teodoro Petkoff, a prominent opposition analyst, has said that even in the minority, the opposition will play a different role than in 2000-2005 “when it took part in a strategy to overthrow Chávez, while now its strategy is to oust him by absolutely democratic means.”
The opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections alleging they would not be free and fair (although international observers found no evidence of fraud), and pro-Chávez lawmakers occupied all the seats. Later on a dozen lawmakers distanced themselves from Chávez or joined the opposition, but the PSUV was still able to pass any law it wished and empower the president to issue decree-laws.
The outgoing parliament may continue to take measures of this sort in the three months of its term that remain. It may even try to cut back parliament’s own initiatives and tasks, and empower the president to govern by decree for the fourth time since 1999.
Hernández and Semtei do not predict opposition lawmakers will be recruited to pro-Chávez ranks, but say there may be defections from the PSUV benches, as has happened in the past. This would stiffen resistance to government measures aimed at introducing change.
A crisis may be brewing, driven by deteriorating social and economic indicators, which are already regarded as causing or contributing to the electoral decline of Chávez and his government, they say. High inflation, long-term unemployment and under-employment, high crime rates, and lack of housing and of services like electricity are some of the problems they highlight.
In the 2006 presidential elections, Chávez was reelected with 7.3 million votes, but in the 2007 and 2009 referendums he and his proposals garnered between two and three million fewer votes.
The opposition is highly motivated to face any upcoming political crisis with a confrontational attitude, in advance of the presidential elections due in December 2012, by the success it has tasted since joining together as MUD, a coalition of some 20 parties of national scope.
MUD has increased its majority in the states where it was victorious in the 2008 regional elections, and made headway elsewhere, like the eastern oil state of Anzoátegui and the Capital District (West Caracas) where, for the first time since 1998 and by the slimmest of margins, Chávez’s supporters were outnumbered.
Pablo Pérez, the governor of the northwestern oil state of Zulia, reaped an outstanding success Sunday, with the opposition winning 13 of the 16 seats in play, as did Henrique Capriles of Miranda state, which covers part of Caracas and a province to its east, where MUD got 700,000 votes compared to the PSUV’s 500,000.