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Chavist movement taken aback

Nicolás Maduro’s narrow victory gives rise to an unusual scenario in Venezuela

This time there was a surprise. Nicolás Maduro's slender victory over Henrique Capriles in Sunday's presidential elections in Venezuela has disconcerted the ranks of the Chávez movement, and gives rise to a panorama unknown in 14 years of the country's so-called "Bolivarian revolution." Only about 200,000 votes, 1.5 percentage points, separate the heir of Hugo Chávez (50.66 percent) and his rival (49 percent), when the opinion polls had given him an edge of between 10 and 15 points. Not only that: the voter turnout, nearly 79 percent, is very similar to that seen in the October 2012 elections, when Chávez obtained a 10-point advantage over Capriles. That is, there has been a clear shift of Chávez votes to the opposition candidate.

Pointing to more than 3,000 complaints of irregularities, the opposition is refusing to accept the results, and has demanded a recount vote by vote. In spite of this, Maduro on Monday was proclaimed the official winner, without even waiting for the formal conclusion of the electoral process.

Understandably, astonishment reigns in the governing Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). In the absence of the leader's charisma, Maduro enjoyed every other advantage: his mentor's blessing, the emotional climate generated by the demise of Chávez, the economic resources of the state and the steamroller of the government-controlled media. What seemed sure to be a walkover for Maduro was reduced to barely saving face. And what was expected to be the immolation of Capriles in his second presidential race is now, in practice, a moral victory. The governor of the state of Miranda has almost prevailed in an unequal struggle.

Capriles now stands in a favorable position. Such an avalanche of votes confirms him as an alternative to Chavism, provided the opposition does not repeat the mistakes of the past and adheres to its line of unity. And his rival is left with the Herculean task of straightening out a polarized country scourged by inflation, the decline of the petroleum industry, supply shortages, power blackouts and violent crime. With his overwhelming personality, Chávez mitigated the discontent. Now that he is gone, oratory is no longer enough. The population is going to demand solutions.

Within the Chavist movement, the foundations are beginning to crack. The speaker of the parliament, Diosdado Cabello, was quick to demand "profound self-criticism." Cabello, an aspirant to the succession of Chávez, is demanding that the cause of failure be sought out "even under stones" so as not to endanger "the Commander's legacy." The arrow is aimed directly at Maduro.

Apart from the congratulations of Russia, China and above all, Cuba, which depends on Venezuelan oil, the general tone worldwide has been one of prudence. The OAS has announced its endorsement of the vote recount demanded by the opposition: a satisfactory statement after the silence that Latin American governments have kept in view of the constitutional violations and the anomalies of the Venezuelan electoral process.

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