Bolivarian Left sweeps Venezuela’s municipal elections
People examine voter lists for mayoral elections by a mural of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez at a polling station Sunday in Caracas. | Ariana Cubillos / AP

On Sunday, December 10, Venezuela held another election, for 335 mayoralties and for the governorship of the important Zulia state. Like the regional elections held in October, the results were very encouraging for President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

The election in Zula state took place because the governor who was originally elected in October  refused to accept being sworn in before the National Constituent Assembly, which the right-wing opposition considers to be an illegitimate body.  But the Constituent Assembly itself was elected with a large turnout on July 30, and its existence is established by the Venezuelan constitution.

The main three party opposition coalition, or MUD (United Democratic Round Table), had previously announced a boycott of the municipal elections. However, for the most part, the boycott kept the right-wing vote down.  According to the National Electoral Council (CNE) the turnout was about 47.32 percent, with more than 9 million people voting.  It appears that the turnout was particularly low in right-wing bastions, which was to be expected given the boycott.

And also to be expected was that the Bolivarian left swept the elections and now controls the mayoralties of the vast majority of towns in Venezuela, including most of the state capitals.   The PSUV and allied candidates won 327 of 335 mayoralties, and the right-wing opposition only took eight.  The PSUV won almost all the state capitals.

Also, the PSUV’s candidate, Omar Prieto, won the governorship of Zulia state by a margin of 20,000 votes.  This means that only four right wingers serve as governors, as opposed to a total of nineteen   Bolivarians.

Zulia state is the largest Venezuelan state by population, with 3,704,000 inhabitants (the total population of Venezuela is nearly 32 million).  Important also is the fact that Zulia, at the far Western end of the country, is the site of the largest oil and natural gas deposits in the Western Hemisphere, and is also characterized by high agricultural productivity.  Zulia’s capital, Maracaibo, with nearly 2.7 million inhabitants, is Venezuela’s second largest city after the capital, Caracas.   The previous governor of Zulia, Juan Pablo Guanipa, was affiliated with the right-wing Justice First (Primero Justicia) party which is part of the MUD coalition.  After regional (gubernatorial) elections in October, Guanipa, who was re-elected, refused to be sworn in in front of the National Constituent Assembly, and therefore was disqualified from taking up his position.  Now the PSUV controls that key governorship too.

Going into Sunday’s election, there was friction within the ruling alliance, called the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP).  Some parties within the alliance, notably the Communist Party of Venezuela, have felt that Maduro’s Bolivarian government should be moving farther and faster, and more to the left, to deal with the country’s huge economic problems.  For this reason, and because the MUD boycott made it certain that the right could not advance, both the Communist Party (the second largest pro-Bolivarian party next to the PSUV) and other groups allied with, but to the left of, the PSUV, ran their own candidates for mayoralties in a number of areas.

Since the disastrous December, 2015 national legislative election and before, the Communists and some others have been calling for greater empowerment of the grassroots, and also new economic measures that would break Venezuela out of the untenable commodities production model which it inherited from previous governments going back to the 1920s.  Under this model, Venezuela sells oil (via a state company) overseas, but imports a huge proportion of other items necessary for people’s daily lives, including crucial medicines.  This makes the country dependent on the price of oil on international markets, and empowers private business interests, mostly aligned with the political right, who control the imports.  This, say the communists, has to change, because it is strengthening the right-wing enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution.

For the most part, the PSUV candidates defeated those who opposed them from the left. For example, Eduardo Saman, a former government minister who ran for mayor of the Libertador region of Caracas with the support of both the Communist Party and the “Homeland for All” (Patria para Todos”) Party, lost to the PSUV’S Erika Farias.  The reaction of the PSUV leadership and government to these left challenges was mixed, suggesting that within the PSUV there are also differences of opinion on how to deal with the country’s economic and social problems.

The election results suggest some recuperation of the government’s former popularity, and perhaps even more, a rejection of some of the opposition’s tactics, including often violent “guarimbas” or street protests and appeals to the United States to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs. President Maduro, who has announced he is running for re-election next year, can take a lot of comfort from these results, and from those of the National Constituent Assembly and regional elections earlier this year.  However, he cannot assume that a new victory will be easy.  While public opinion polling shows his approval rate improving slightly, it is still pretty low, at around 28 percent approval.  But the approval level for the right-wing MUD coalition is not high, and is dropping.

In other words, how the Venezuelan government and the PSUV move to deal with the country’s serious economic and social problems in the coming months will be decisive for the presidential elections.  Among the challenges is the implacable hostility of the Trump administration in the United States.

This hostility dates back to the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, but Trump has now added to it by including some Venezuelans in his latest version of the “travel ban”.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.