The Venezuelan voter has, it seems, said “yes” to Chavism after Chavez, but without any great conviction. This is almost the worst result. And not because one prefers a clear victory for this side or the other, but because it is almost the worst for the stability of Venezuela, and by extension for the rest of the region and the Bolivarian world. The officially anointed heir of the late Bolivarian leader netted about 700,000 fewer votes than Chávez himself did in the presidential elections in October: practically the same number of votes that have swollen the nets of the opposition candidate. And this has narrowed the 11-point-plus margin, which Chávez obtained, to a little over one point for Nicolás Maduro. And given the degree of irregularities registered in a goodly number of elections, not only in Venezuela but throughout much of the region, a difference of 230,000 votes, out of almost 15 million, allows room for all sorts of speculation, and strengthens Henrique Capriles’ argument for recounts to be held here, there and everywhere.
The victory of the “interim president” should, however, make it possible to govern the land and cope with the overwhelming problems facing the country after more than 13 years of Chavism: inflation, shortages and violent crime; especially because the very narrowness of his margin will probably, at least for the moment, keep closed the fissures that may exist is the government bloc. The only thing that would have been worse — not, I repeat, from the moral or political viewpoint, but merely from that of stability — would have been a similarly narrow victory for the Democratic Unity candidate. Capriles would then have found himself in an extraordinarily difficult situation, because the top military command, the Bolivarian militias, the state petroleum company source of operational funding, and, in general, the deep state apparatus built and furnished down through the years of Chavism, would have constituted a formidable obstacle to effective governance.
If it can remain united in the medium term, the opposition can look forward to a new opportunity
Quite apart from enacting any major measures, supposing he had been tempted to do so, the administration in situ, which ranges from the municipal level to the provincial governments and the higher instances of the economy and the army, would by reason of their mere existence have amounted to a whole Himalaya to be scaled in a necessarily limited time. With the present result however, the opposition, if it can remain united in the medium term, can look forward to a new opportunity. The former union leader Maduro has obtained a victory which may turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. With all the resources of the state in his favor, a legion of votes fervently assured by the Bolivarian organizations, or economically captive, in the case of those who vote to keep their job, he has got through by little more than the skin of his teeth.
The Chavist movement will now have in its hands the decision of whether to proceed with the former leader’s project. If the official turnout figure of about 80 percent is accurate, the results point to an incipient disillusionment among the former colonel’s voters. For the opposition, Sunday’s elections have not turned out badly, and for Capriles in particular, even if it is his third consecutive defeat — presidentials in October, regionals in December, presidentials again on Sunday — it may even be a lifesaver. For the ruling party however, it is no more than a lackluster result; and for Maduro in particular, it shows the difference between the real McCoy and a wishful imitation. But the real loser in the show is the Bolivarian project, both at home and abroad, because Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador know that today they are much more alone now than they were. And they may not be at all displeased at this prospect.