Venezuelan socialists make election gains

Venezuela held its second election in four months, the 22nd election since the beginning of the socialist Bolivarian revolutionary process in 1998. These elections, for the governors of Venezuela’s 23 states, saw a turnout of 61.14 percent of registered voters, much higher than expected, second only to 2008 where regional elections saw a 65.45 percent turnout.

The ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and their alliance, the Great Patriotic Pole, won 54 percent of the total vote share and at least 17, or 75 percent of the states. It seems like the GPP won an 18th state but the count is still ongoing as of this writing.

The opposition, as the above makes clear, won only 5 states on 45 percent of the vote share. In typical fashion, after losing, significant parts of the opposition are claiming fraud, claims uncritically echoed by many major U.S. media outlets.

As we have pointed out in the past, the opposition’s claims of fraud simply don’t hold water.

First, note the split responses of the opposition. While the overarching electoral coalition of the opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has been aggressive in its claims of fraud, its largest component has not. The Vice-President of opposition party Democratic Action (AD), which won four of the five states that went to the opposition, stated “so far there is no evidence of fraud.” The other opposition winner, from the Popular Justice (PJ) party has also–not surprisingly–recognized his own victory, while major opposition figure Henri Falcon has recognized his defeat.

There is also the inconvenient fact that MUD participated in all the pre-election procedures and approved of the process and preparations. If the PSUV wins the contested Bolivar State, it will have won the same number of governorships–18–as in the 2008 election with similar turnout.

The opposition vote tumbled by 2.2 million from the 2015 elections when they took control of the National Assembly. The 45 percent of the vote they received in this election is relatively close to the 47 percent share they achieved in the 2010 National Assembly election.

Further, on October 15 major opposition strongholds like Amazonas, Lara, and Miranda states all fell to the socialist forces. In Amazonas the opposition vote totally collapsed down 59 percent from 2012. The opposition vote in Lara was down 18 percent from 2012, and 28 percent from 2008. In Miranda the opposition vote was down 5 percent from similar totals in both 2008 and 2012.

2015 was a high point for the opposition when they surprisingly won even some traditionally Chavista areas, so undoubtedly there is also the factor of a diminishing protest vote cast by those who usually vote Chavista.  All these factors comport with a reduced vote for the opposition.

Revolution capitalizes on opposition disarray

Ultimately the poor opposition result is the fruit of their own totally failed strategy. The strategy had three prongs: Refusal to recognize the authority of either the executive branch or the Supreme Court; total gridlocking of the National Assembly; and a street protest campaign.

The first two were entirely unsuccessful in doing anything other than exposing the opposition’s fundamental opposition to almost all of the most popular elements implemented by the Bolivarian government. The third resulted in 147 deaths and a number of gruesome scenes in which opposition supporters burned people alive just for being suspected of being Chavistas, some marked as such because of their Black skin.

Clearly these factors drove people away from the opposition camp. Add to this the clear blow to their credibility by their participation in the elections of a government it had previously referred to as a fraudulent dictatorship, and one can see why the opposition had such a poor showing.

The Bolivarian forces, in contrast, in the lead up to the elections concretely addressed the problems in the country. In the face of an economic crisis the Bolivarian government established a new basic goods distribution network to combat shortages and black market extortion; introduced productivity into the tax code to reduce reliance on oil revenues; and took initial steps to broaden exports and reduce exposure to the fall in oil prices.

In the face of attempted isolation by U.S. and Europe, the government has responded with a concerted diplomatic effort to forge new economic ties, attempt to restore oil prices and defend the principle of national sovereignty. In addition, they have made moves to de-dollarize its international trade.

As all of this took place, the government never backed off its commitment to social justice. Examples of this are the pushing forward of existing programs like the almost two million low-cost and in some cases free homes, as well as  new endeavors such as launching in recent months a massive push for more comprehensive neonatal care for all pregnant women.

Finally, the Bolivarian government spoke to the issue of popular power. These issues are more directly outlined here, but the essential thrust has included mechanisms to empower masses of people to directly fight the hoarding of and speculation with basic goods; as well as creating the constituent assembly as an arena to finally programmatically harmonize the the many thousands of communal councils and communes with the formal structures of the existing government.

This latter factor is heavily underplayed. It should be remembered that the Chavista movement is a revolt of the majority against the tyranny of a minority. It is a unique project that aims to give people real power, beyond the ballot box, over what is produced and distributed, socialism–in the words of the Venezuelans–of the 21st century. Clearly between the Constituent Assembly elections and now the regional elections the core Chavista base has rallied to prevent a rollback of this process, doubling down on the PSUV-led government as the instrument for their own liberation.

The road ahead

The initiative still lies with the socialist Bolivarian movement. The opposition is now clearly divided. On the one hand are those, led by the AD, that see the street protest option as counterproductive and seem content to take their chances at the ballot box and the negotiation table. These members of the opposition are undoubtedly hoping for international pressure as well for the Chavista government to cut some sort of deal with them.

On the other side of the coin are sectors of MUD now calling for a return to the streets. This seems to be the preferred route of the core opposition supporters, typically gathered together in richer, whiter neighborhoods. They violently oppose the revolution for giving power and resources to the poor. They seek chaos which would allow them to bring forward a coup. Ominously these seem to be the forces with the most backing from the United States and from Organization of America States President Luis Almagro.

Now the Chavista forces are also confronted with many serious issues to work through in the Constituent process and serious challenges uprooting corruption and implementing more decisive proposals to lessen the impacts of the economic crisis and definitively start to further improve lives.

We repeat here, what we said in our earlier piece:

For revolutionaries around the world then, the tasks could not be clearer. A people decided in 1998 to break decisively with neo-liberal capitalism, and to share their wealth more equally. They also decided to institutionalize and expand massively efforts at communal, popular power. In that time living standards have increased, poverty has decreased, healthcare, education and housing are formally rights and policy is aimed at achieving that. Indigenous communities and Afro-Venezuelans have been empowered to reclaim their culture and heritage and push back against the legacies of genocide and slavery. In effect, Venezuela has relaunched a worldwide discussion on socialism, what the next round of attempts to build socialism can and should look like, and what they can borrow from the past and must invent for the future.

If the Bolivarian movement is derailed, or overthrown, all that goes away. The cause of people being able to collectively decide how to best use their resources and talents for their own benefits will be irreparably set-back. There are challenges and contradictions to discuss for sure, but first and foremost the Bolivarian revolution must be defended.

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