In elections September 26 for the National Assembly, the slate led by President Hugo Chavez’ Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) took 98 of the 165 seats in contention. The PSUV, allied to the much smaller Venezuelan Communist Party, which contributed one delegate, and the People’s Electoral Movement, fell short of the 110 seats required for the two-thirds majority control Chavez forces had exercised over the parliamentary session beginning in 2005. Right-wing opposition forces had boycotted elections then. One delegate elected by an indigenous party will also join the PSUV bloc.
A two thirds majority is required for passage of organic laws, which “organize public powers, develop constitutional rights,” or provide framework for other laws.
The upcoming PSUV bench, however, barely misses the three-fifths majority required to pass “enabling laws” authorizing the Assembly to delegate matters to the president.
Turnout at the polls was high with 66 percent of 17,575,975 people registered to vote showing up. Absenteeism rates were up slightly in poorer districts. The Democratic Unity Roundtable, a right-wing coalition, took 63 seats; the center-left Fatherland for All Party that broke from the PSUV, two seats; and indigenous candidates with divided allegiances, three seats. The popular vote was close, as indicated by parallel voting that day for the Latin American Parliament: 5.268.939 votes for six PSUV delegates and 5.077.043 votes for six Democratic Unity delegates.
The PSUV was victorious in 18 of Venezuela’s 23 states plus metropolitan Caracas. The party lost decisively in the right-wing, separatist strongholds Zulia and Tachira, in Nueva Esparta, and surprisingly in Anzoátegui. The PSUV governor there, Tarek William Saab, had lost credibility among workers through his coddling of manufacturers and business persons. Venezuela’s Communist party ran candidates under its own banner gaining 162.830 votes and placing one delegate each in the National Assembly and Latin American Parliament.
Establishment media reports have trumpeted, or at least underscored, opposition gains. Explanations, however, are not lacking. Voters, say observers, were reacting to inflation, food distribution problems, energy shortfalls, transportation deficiencies, high crime rates and threats to personal security, bureaucratic inefficiencies rampant in state agencies, and revelations of corruption attributed to PSUV functionaries. Heavy rains prevented many in poor urban districts from voting.
Much of this was twisted into an intense anti-Chavez domestic and international media mill that produced a “cataract of lies,” according to analyst Atilio Boron. He noted that $80 million had arrived from Washington as payoffs for U.S. and European NGO’s busy with “empowering civil society” and “citizen education.” Boron pointed out that in previous elections, those involving Chavez as a candidate, the Bolivarian movement had dominated the proceedings.
Some leftist critics took the results as a warning. The opposition’s new foothold in the National Assembly opens doors for anti-government harassment and conspiracies, according to Gonzalo Gomez, director of the Aporrea web site. He attributes the outcome to slowdown instincts evident in some PSUV leaders and to capitalist domination of an economy where the private sector produces 70% of the GDP. Argentinean Marcelo Colussi saw signs that “the country is not constructing a true socialist culture” and has failed so far in “establishing a genuine popular power from below.
In any event, within the framework of electoral politics, the Chavez phenomenon wins points for having emerged victorious 15 of 16 times since 1998 in rigorously monitored elections.
President Chavez told reporters afterwards, “We are passing the stage of utopian socialism. He promised “an acceleration of new social, educational, technological, and petroleum programs” aimed at building socialism “in concrete form.” He proclaimed the need for improved and more widely available housing, an insight, he said, that came from campaigning and from visualizing effects of recent heavy rains and floods. Polling data assign a 55 – 60 percent approval rating for the Chavez presidency.
While expressing disappointment at the PSUV failure to achieve the goal of 110 parliamentary seats PSUV campaign head Aristóbulo Istúriz took comfort in “guaranteeing the defense of President Hugo Chavez and the policies of the revolutionary government, and having won sufficient forces to propel structural changes in this era of the construction of socialism,”