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by Humberto Marquez

Chavez Claims Mandate After Landslide Vote

(IPS) CARACAS -- Hugo Chavez's landslide victory in Venezuela's presidential elections has not prevented the emergence of a much more mature opposition. After years of seeking a shortcut to oust him from power, it now has nearly 40 percent of the electorate behind it.

Chavez took 61 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales.

Rosales acknowledged defeat on Sunday night, although he predicted a smaller gap in the final tally.

Rosales "lost, with an excellent result of nearly 40 percent, having taken politics out on to the streets, and he will continue to give a functional, organic shape to the opposition movement, in order to put right eight years of wrongheadedness," his strategy chief Teodoro Petkoff, a former socialist leader and present editor of the evening newspaper Tal Cual, told IPS.

The opposition has been trying to dislodge Chavez from the presidency since he took office in February 1999, and especially since 2001, with massive street demonstrations, a short-lived coup d'etat in 2002, an oil managers' strike lasting two months in 2002-2003, and a recall referendum in 2004 which Chavez won with 59 percent support.

The opposition decided at the last minute to boycott last year's legislative elections, and the governing party and its allies captured all 167 seats in parliament.

According to Petkoff, "we have to work outside parliament, which might be a good thing, and go back to what we used to call 'grassroots politics.'" Given that Rosales' support base is among voters in the middle and lower-middle income brackets, in Petkoff's opinion they "are the most dynamic 40 percent of Venezuelan society."

Leopoldo Puchi, secretary general of the opposition Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), told IPS that the minority vote "represents a sector of society that has great vitality and great potential for fighting for democracy, to bring back the creative tension that government and opposition, with their different functions, contribute to public affairs."

German Campos of the survey firm 30.11, which predicted Sunday's result with a high degree of accuracy, told IPS that the election "repeated roughly the same numbers that Venezuelan elections have produced over the last decade: about 60 percent of the population are in favour of radical change."

The leftist president announced that his 2007-2013 six-year term would open up "the Venezuelan way to twenty-first century socialism," which he defined vaguely as being "loving, humanist, Christian, indigenist and Bolivarian." He said his first eight years in office had been "just a transition period that's over now."

Chavez "should tell us what this socialism means, what it's made of, and debate it not only with his own supporters but with society as a whole: those who voted for him, the opposition, the productive sectors and non-governmental organizations," said Puchi, a sociologist who was minister for Families before breaking with the president in 2001.

Luis Leon, head of the Datanalisis polling firm, said to IPS that "those who voted for Chavez did so because of his wealth distribution policy and because they were in favour of the missions (social programs), but the opinion polls show that 80 percent of Venezuelans do not want a Cuban-style socialist model of society."

In his view, "we should hold early legislative elections, never mind that Chavez isn't to blame for its current make-up. Society must be fairly represented in politics."

This proposal will encounter resistance from hardline Chavistas, and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, formerly speaker of parliament, has already said that "if the opposition want deputies in the National Assembly, they should stand for election in 2010."

Meanwhile, Chavez has said that he will shortly create a commission for drafting constitutional reforms.

Leon also called attention to the new opportunity to hold referendums to revoke the four-year terms, due to expire in 2008, of over 20 governors and 300 mayors who support the governing party, but whose popularity is well below that of the president.

Government supporters, after braving pouring rain to celebrate Sunday under the "people's balcony" at the government palace, are keeping a low profile.

Lina Ron, the governing parties' most belligerent and popular leader in Caracas, praised "the honourable behavior of Mr. Rosales in acknowleding Chavez's victory, and announcing that he will lead the opposition in Venezuela, because it is right and proper that there should be an opposition."

At the time of the 2004 referendum, the opposition complained of electoral fraud, but failed to prove it. For years, it has repudiated or disdained all institutions headed by Chavez and other authorities, so Rosales' speech conceding Chavez's election victory was a 180 degree U-turn.

The archbishop of Merida, in the southwest of the country, Baltazar Porras, an outspoken critic of Chavez, said that "life didn't end yesterday, nor is it beginning today. We cannot go on in a belligerent climate, and although the victory for the governing parties was overwhelming, more will be demanded of them by their own rank and file."

The reelected president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who stated publicly that "the people will reelect Chavez" in Ciudad Guayana last month, in the southeast of Venezuela, also warned Chavez in the same speech that during his second term, the people would expect much more of him than in the first.

Rosales called on Chavez and his followers to "read and interpret the results well," because they point to an opposition that is in the minority, but is nevertheless muscular.

As for the business community, the president of the employers' association Fedecamaras, Jose Luis Betancourt, said he hoped for a policy of openness in order to dialogue with government sectors, while he lauded Rosales because "with his nobility and hard work, he provided the common ground for the ideas of a great number of Venezuelans."

The significant thing is that for the first time, the opposition have admitted that Chavez has majority support because of the votes he earned, rather than through alleged fraud, of which international election observers never found any sign.

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Albion Monitor   December 7, 2006   (

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