Beware Washington's High Hopes for 'Chavista' Defeat in Venezeula

Supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a poster with a picture of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that reads "Vote for Chavez", during a recent campaign rally in Caracas. (Photo: Reuters)

Beware Washington's High Hopes for 'Chavista' Defeat in Venezeula

Though headlines in the U.S. press are already cheering the possible downfall of the revolution built by the late Hugo Chavez, the government's prospects are not quite as dire as they might appear

As the people of Venezuela head to the polls on Sunday for parliamentary elections, internal political tensions remain high even as the overall outcome remains anything but certain.

Though many headlines in the U.S. press are using recent polling to claim that the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro could suffer a significant defeat in the elections, evidence exists to show the government's prospects are not quite as dire as they appear. Though support for the government has clearly faltered since the death of Hugo Chavez, founder of the nation's Bolivarian Revolution and Maduro's direct predecessor, the remains deep suspicion about the nation's rightwing opposition forces who have signalled their desire to dismantle popular programs and re-institute neoliberal policies.

In addition to placing the elections in broader political and historic context, Robie Mitchell, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, offered the simple dynamics by explaining that "Venezuelans will elect a new Parliament on December 6th for the first time in five years. If the opposition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), beats President Nicolas Maduro's Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), there could be major legislative consequences." Current polls, he continued, "predict a MUD landslide victory" but the nation's "complex electoral laws, however, favor Maduro's PSUV."

On the Thursday, the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. released a report showing that "a wide range of outcomes are possible in the elections" due to how the Venezuelan voting system works.

"Media reports have so far been based on national polling, without any explanation of the system of representation," said CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. "As a result, most people following the news would think that an opposition majority is inevitable, and a super-majority (60 percent or two-thirds) is likely. These results are possible, but by no means guaranteed, and we cannot even say how likely they are."

The Guardianreports:

According to a poll released on Thursday by the Pew Research Centre, a full 85% of Venezuelans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country.

Despite the difficulties, however, many Venezuelans stand by the president and his party, which blame the shortages of basic goods on what they see as an economic war to destabilize the government.

"It's clear that the biggest problem is having to stand in line to buy food but we also see that it's a strategy of the rich so that the poor people get pissed off and turn on Maduro," said Mariana Navas, a 56-year-old housewife in the Carapinto neighbourhood in western Caracas.

Navas rejects the idea that the opposition can win Sunday's elections. "That's not a possibility," she said. "The (Venezuelan) people woke up thanks to Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias and we will not go back to the past," she said. "We are ready to defend our revolution even with our own lives."

Though some, especially detractors of the Chavista agenda in the U.S., have tried to malign the Venezuelan government by challenging the legitimacy of its electoral system, it was monitoring by the Carter Center, founded by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, that in 2012 championed the nation's elections as among the most secure and fair in the world.

In an op-ed published Thursday on Common Dreams, Weisbrot said the current U.S. role remains deeply troubling when it comes to Venezuela:

Washington has been trying to get rid of the Venezuelan government for more than 13 years, going back to the failed military coup of 2002. The U.S. State Department acknowledged that Washington "provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved" in the coup. They stepped up funding to opposition groups after the coup government collapsed. Since 2004, the U.S. has also supported regime change by electoral means, but the Venezuelan opposition has never been able to win a national election.

Now Washington's hopes are high for the Venezuela's National Assembly elections on December 6, with the economy in recession, and grappling with shortages and high inflation. As usual, the U.S. government and its allies -- in the media , NGOs, and even U.S. law enforcement agencies -- have been campaigning vigorously.

But there is something even more sinister going on here. While the Venezuelan opposition is leading in national polls, it very likely will not do as well in winning Assembly seats as these polls would indicate. That is mainly because Venezuela's single-chamber legislature gives more than proportional representation to smaller states. It is not so disproportional as in the U.S. or Brazilian system, with their separate Senate chambers, but it is significant. Also, the governing party (PSUV) has millions of members and a record of getting their voters to the polls, while the opposition has nothing comparable.

As Weisbrot noted separately, "Unfortunately, there have been a lot of international attacks on the integrity of the voting system, and this could provoke instability or even violence depending on the electoral outcome. This is especially true in light of the lack of understanding of how the system of representation works."

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