Venezuela’s electoral officials have just issued the results of the presidential election today, with Chávez winning 54% of the vote to Henrique Capriles’ 44% after nearly 81% of the Venezuelan electorate turned out to vote. I’ll have more on this later this week, but three quick observations:
-Chávez’s victory raises as many questions as it answers. Set to be in office until at least 2019 now (pending his health, which, given his recent bout with cancer, is far from a certain thing), what path will Chávez take to continue his self-proclaimed Bolivarian revolution? Does he take a victory lap, or begin to try to institutionalize his reforms further? To what extent does he remain the face of the reforms he’s implemented, and to what extent does he try to ensure their success for the era after he did? (Brazil and the administration of Lula da Silva may be a useful point of comparison/contrast here.) Does he expand the reforms further, or settle into normalcy? And of course, not-unreal economic issues like currency and social issues like prisoners’ rights and violence must be dealt with.
-The fact that it was the closest election Chávez has faced suggests the opposition may be finally coalescing after years of fragmentation and internal struggles. Though Capriles did not win, it’s hard not to see him in a good position to continue to try to build an opposition movement, should he want to. And just as there are many questions with Chávez, so there are with the opposition – will this be the high-water mark for them, or the beginning of a new phase of politics in Venezuela? Where (and to whom) do they go from here? How will they respond to the results in the coming days and weeks?
-Venezuela’s allies (Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belize, and others) are definitely breathing a sigh of relief, as the foreign aid they receive from Venezuela, while not guaranteed, is less uncertain than it was should Capriles have won.
Certainly, I won’t even pretend to have any answers on this issue – clairvoyance is not my strong suit. Nonetheless, as exciting and spectacular (in the sense of “spectacle”) as the elections are, the real importance and consequences of today’s outcome will become evident in the coming weeks, months, and years.