Venezuelans went to the polls to elect mayors and municipal councils on Dec. 8. The raucous right-wing opposition, led by Miranda State Governor Enrique Capriles Radonski and his Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party, had claimed that this election was going to be a note of no confidence on the left-wing policies of President Nicolas Maduro. However, this boast proved to be vain as the voters gave Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela and its allies a solid victory.
After the premature death due to cancer of President Hugo Chavez on March 5 this year came a hard-fought presidential election on April 14, which Maduro won but by a considerably smaller margin than anticipated. Capriles Radonski, his opponent in that election, refused to recognize the results and tense street confrontations followed. The United States also refused to recognize Maduro’s win, leading to a worsening of U.S.-Venezuela relations.
Through the balance of the year, the corporate-controlled press in Venezuela, the United States and worldwide has focused on Venezuela’s social and economic problems: A high crime rate (though not as high as U.S. allied Honduras), inflation and an annoying scarcity of some consumer goods. In spite of the fact that on other measures, such as growth in gross domestic product and balance of trade, Venezuela has been doing well, the publicizing of the areas of difficulty has led to claims that the Venezuelan economy is near collapse and that voters would, on Dec. 8, sweep allied local governments allied with Maduro’s party out of power.
Critics of Chavez’ policies, which Maduro is continuing, generally fail to note that the policies they deplore have cut Venezuela’s poverty rate in half and provided educational and health care services to millions who lacked these things before.
In the run-up to the election, President Maduro got authorization from the Venezuelan Congress to act decisively (an enabling law that has been used often by previous Venezuelan presidents), and then went after speculators who he claims, with reason, have been feeding inflation and hoarding consumer goods. Specifically, Maduro accused wholesale merchants of charging huge markups on imported goods. The government obliged merchants to significantly lower the prices of certain kinds of merchandise. There were howls of protest from the business community and the opposition, but the general public seems to have approved of the measures.
On election day, there was a 59 percent turnout. Maduro’s PSUV candidates got 49.2 percent of the vote, Capriles’ MUD candidates and other rightists got 42.72 percent. The rest was spread among smaller parties, some of which are in fact allied with the Chavista governmet. For example the Venezuelan Communist Party, which supports Maduro nationally but also runs some of its own candidates locally, got 1.6 percent of the vote, totaling 165,000 votes overall.
This translated, as of early last week, into 196 municipal governments for Maduro’s party, 54 for the MUD, 8 for other parties and the rest too close to call at that point. President Maduro now says that with allies, the government got 54 percent, and the PSUV got a total of 210 municipalities out of the 335 in the country.
Capriles Radonski claimed that the relatively low voter turnout should be interpreted as a rejection of the government’s policies. In other words: “sour grapes.” The opposition also tries to comfort itself by the fact that it won in some major cities, including retaining Barinas, the birthplace of Hugo Chavez. But Maduro responded that his PSUV had won 71 percent of the municipalities in Miranda state, whose governor is none other than Enrique Capriles Radonski.
The next election in Venezuela is a national legislative one, in 2015. Maduro made clear that this means full speed ahead for his radical program both internally and internationally. He has now introduced new policies to improve job security and encourage savings.