El Nuevo Herald
December 08, 2008
Victories by President Hugo Chávez's opponents in recent elections could pose a growing threat to his power.
The recent regional elections in Venezuela have created a new political playing field for President Hugo Chávez, whose Bolivarian party suffered some losses in several states, as a new crop of opposition leaders succeeded in obtaining key public positions.
The electoral triumphs of the young new opposition leadership stand as the most significant political move since 2002, when the oil strikes caused problems for Chávez and ended with the April military uprising that same year.
The Chávez government has already taken steps toward curbing the power and resources of opponents, ordering the transfer of hospitals, schools, public transportation agencies and other resources to be placed under the authority of official ministries, especially in areas where opposition leaders were elected to public office.
One of the newly elected leaders is Antonio Ledezma, 53, mayor-elect of Caracas, who was a legislative representative and former mayor of Caracas prior to Chávez's rise to power. He is considered a savvy politician and a charismatic leader familiar with the low-income neighborhoods of Venezuela's capital that have, until now, been dominated by hard-line Chávez supporters.
TOP OF THE LIST
According to analysts, Ledezma is also at the top of the list for possible presidential candidates that could challenge Chávez in the 2012 elections, though he is not the only one.
Other potential presidential candidates for the opposition include Henrique Capriles Radonsky, 36, governor-elect of Miranda, Venezuela's second wealthiest state; Henrique Salas Feo, governor-elect of Carabobo, Venezuela's industrial center; and César Pérez Vivas, governor of the state of Tachira.
Salas Feo, 49, studied economics in Connecticut, is a former congressman and has served as governor on three previous occasions. Pérez Vivas is a former legislator and the political strongman that has held power in the border state of Tachira where the Colombian guerrillas make frequent incursions.
As all but one of the municipalities that compose the Venezuelan capital chose opposition candidates, Chávez publicly accused each of the newly elected officials of being corrupt, fascists and secessionists, during the inauguration of the only successful candidate from his party in the metropolitan area of Caracas.
''Chávez fears that these new leaders from the opposition will steal the show,'' Alfredo Keller, political advisor and pollster from the Caracas-based Keller & Associates, told El Nuevo Herald, adding, ``He fears the competitive advantage because now these opposition leaders are more efficient in what Chávez does well, creating effective and emotional relations with the electorate.''
Keller said the opposition will now have a means of ''direct contact with the people'' through the newly elected public officials, who have overcome the ''contention wall'' Chávez tried to construct to isolate opposition parties from the electorate.
`A BIG HOLE'
''Chávez knows this is a big hole. It was a defeat along his entire line of flotation,'' Keller said.
For his part, Antonio Ledezma said upon being sworn in as mayor of Caracas on Saturday that, ``We have taken from Chávez the exclusivity of speaking with the poor.''
According to political analyst Oscar Schemel of Caracas-based Hinterlaces polling firm, ``More than an emerging leadership, there is an excellent opportunity to build a leadership.''
Schemel attributed electoral victories of the opposition in key states to the poor performance of past official administrations and a better offer put forward by the opposition candidates during the campaigns.
Analyst Adolfo Salgueiro of the Caracas daily El Universal said in his political column that ``Ledezma and Capriles, intelligently, spoke of peace, coexistence and cooperation. That is how it ought to be, but it remains to be seen how they will manage to govern with an abusive executive power little disposed to help them and soon without much money.''
Historian Manuel Caballero, a critic of Chávez, said leaders like Ledezma will govern ``in a very difficult situation, because they will receive day and night the threats and sabotage from Miraflores [Venezuela's presidential palace].''
Some experts consider that the resurgence of new leaders is not exclusive to the opposition and will surely generate significant consequences within Bolivarian party sectors.
According to Schemel, the regional elections produced at least two official party leaders that ``do not depend on the leadership of Chávez.''
Marco Díaz, governor-elect of Merida, obtained a wider margin than Chávez has ever been able to carry in that state. Henri Falcon won the governorship of Lara and led opinion polls even after his temporary expulsion from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
There is speculation that the future opposition presidential candidate will emerge from the recent regional elections.
''Partly, the competition in the internal elections was motivated by the possibility of figuring among the panorama for the presidential elections of 2012,'' Keller said.
LOOKING TO 2012
Despite his previous political ties to Chávez, Ledezma currently embodies the opposition leader most likely to become a serious contender for the presidential race of 2012.
''Ledezma has the chance to build a leadership,'' Schemel said, adding, ``Though perhaps for Ledezma it will be much more difficult, because he is associated with a past that is rejected by the majority of Venezuelans.''
According to Keller, ``The most relevant figure that the opposition has, for the relative importance that his new position carries from a political point of view, is Ledezma.''
Others like Manuel Rosales could play a notable role, but they face many obstacles.
Rosales, former governor of Zulia state and now mayor of the Zulia state capital, Maracaibo, was a presidential candidate and enjoyed widespread support, but may soon have to face accusations that could invalidate him as a candidate for some time.