December 5, 2006
Featured Q & A with our Board of Advisors
Q. As expected, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was elected to another six-year term on Sunday, defeating Zulia state Governor Manuel Rosales. What is the outlook for Venezuela under six more years of chavismo? Will his government continue to be buoyed by high oil prices? How will he tackle growing problems, such as violent crime
Comments by: Javier Corrales, Angelo Rivero Santos and Jennifer McCoy
A. Guest Comment: Javier Corrales
"The current situation in Venezuela has very few prece- dents among Western democra- cies.It is rare for those who come in second place in any democratic election to end up with no institutional power at all. That is what happened in Venezuela on Sunday. The opposition has no presence in nation- al-level state offices. Even presumably autonomous state institutions are con- trolled by open 'revolutionaries,' chosen by Chavez for their loyalties to the regime. There were no seats contested in the legis- lature, so it will remain 100 percent pro- Chavez until the next legislative election. The result will be an executive branch that will feel a larger mandate than it obtained electorally and even fewer restraints on its powers than it had prior to the elections. The process of concentration of power in the hands of the executive branch, which started in Venezuela with the 1999 Constitution, will simply continue, and this is never good for democracy. Chavez has no incentive to provide public goods, such as crime control, in part because he faces no pressure to act in such a way. He doesn't even have strong incentives to con- tinue to overfund the missions,since he no longer faces an electoral threat. His only incentive now is to capitalize on his victory and concentrate more power in his hands. The next step, as Chavez himself has declared, is a referendum on the indefinite re-election of the president and further controls on the private media. The organ- ized opposition has very few opportunities to compel the executive branch to govern for all Venezuelans, rather than simply for those who are loyal to the president."
A.Guest Comment: Angelo Rivero-Santos
"The process, results, and aftermath of Venezuela's presidential elec- tions represent a resounding victory for all Venezuelans and a clear sign of their political maturity and democratic voca- tion. Besides a remarkably low absten- tion rate and the definitive burial ofAD and COPEI as political forces,the results mark the beginning ofa new era in con- temporary Venezuelan politics. On the one hand, the overwhelming victory by President Chavez—after eight years in power—leaves no doubts about his legit- imacy as the uncontested leader of Venezuela's 'Bolivarian revolution.' Despite well-documented challenges in the areas of corruption and public secu- rity, President Chavez's efforts to pro- mote a different development model were soundly supported by 61 percent of Venezuelan voters.On the other hand,by conceding his defeat and acknowledging the fairness of the electoral process, the opposition candidate showed political maturity and gained the political capital and legitimacy that he and some of his allies had lost over the past six years.The tone of Mr. Rosales' concession speech neutralized the 'hawks' in the opposition in Caracas,particularly those in Primero Justicia. As of now, it looks as if Mr. Rosales and his closest allies will take the strength ofthe opposition to the state of Zulia and seem willing to—finally—play by the 'rules of the game' as they are established in the 1999 Constitution. While Mr. Chavez will face increasing ruption,Mr.Rosales will face a most dif- ficult challenge in trying to keep an eclectic anti-Chavez coalition together in the aftermath of the elections. Despite these challenges, Venezuelan democracy has been strengthened."
A. Guest Comment: Jennifer McCoy:
"Chavez's victory on Sunday was not unexpected, and demonstrates continued domestic support in which he has never fallen below 56 percent of the vote since his first election in 1998. Nevertheless, the opposition has changed—with a mature Rosales conceding defeat and recognizing Chavez's legitimacy. In con- trast with 2004, when the opposition refused to recognize the results of the recall referendum, the government now has no reason not to engage with Rosales as a responsible opposition leader. Even if oil prices stabilize at $50/barrel, this would still be five times the price of Chavez's first year in office. Therefore, his government will continue to enjoy unusual revenues. Nevertheless, serious problems of personal insecurity, and unemployment and marginal employ- ment continue to face Venezuela. President Chavez will now need to define what it means to deepen his model of 21st century socialism. His renewed mandate and the responsible behavior of his political opponents thus far give him the opportunity to build a grand coali- tion to eradicate poverty and crime."
Javier Corrales is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Amherst College.
Angelo Rivero-Santos is Director of Academic Affairs at Georgetown University's Edmund A.Walsh School of Foreign Service.
Jennifer McCoy is a Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University and Director of the Americas Program at The Carter Center.