Today, Venezuelans go to the polls in a presidential election between Hugo Chávez and challenger Henrique Capriles in a contest that many see as the first real challenge to Chávez’s presidency in a long time. Though we haven’t really covered them too much here, some quick observations.
- Venezuelan polls have been predictably diverse to the point of making any prediction difficult. The most recent poll, from Hinterlaces on September 25, has Chávez up 50-39 over Capriles. A September 24 poll from Datanálasis also had Chávez up, 47-37, but with Capriles having closed the gap in recent polls. And Consultores 21 provided the anomaly, with a poll that claims a 1.9 point lead for Capriles over Chávez (48.1-46.2), though Consultores 21 has consistently been the anomaly among all Venezuelan polls, placing Capriles higher than any other poll. Nonetheless, the election’s outcome is far from certain.
- Equally diverse are the reasons why people are supporting Chávez or Capriles.
- Another contributing factor to the uncertainty is the fact that up to 10% of the voters today may end up making their decision only when they enter the voting booth.
- Of course, the outcome will hinge in no small part upon the military, which faces its own divisions between pro- and anti-Chávez factions. The military has pledged it will respect the people’s choice, but it is unclear exactly how or who it will “respect” should it be a close, contested, and/or controversial election. While there is no reason to immediately suspect direct military involvement in the outcome of the election, the history of Latin America throughout recent decades reminds us that the military could still end up being an important political player in the election’s outcome, for better or worse.
- It’s not just Venezuelans interested in the outcome; close allies Ecuador and Bolivia will be paying attention to the elections as well, for their own economic and diplomatic reasons. Likewise, Nicaragua, which has received $2.2 billion in aid from Venezuela across the past 5 years, has a vested interest in the outcome of the election. Similarly, should Chávez lose, there is a real chance Cuba and even Belize would also suffer in terms of foreign aid. And more abstractly, the outcome of today’s Venezuelan election is of interest to the entire region as a test of the Chávez method for the left’s rise in Latin America. Unlike countries like Brazil, Argentina, and elsewhere, which have relied upon electoral politics and coalition-building to implement social reforms, Venezuela’s new left, and the reforms it has implemented, have really been focused in the figure of Chávez; should he lose to Capriles (a not-unrealistic possibility), it could have long-term consequences on the political methods and tactics of the center-left throughout the region and highlighting further the successes of the “Brazilian model.”
Whatever the results, the outcome will be worth watching in the coming days and weeks.