With over 99 percent of the votes tallied, it would appear that Vice President Nicolas Maduro has become the new president of Venezuela. And the big question mark is, how will he govern Venezuela with so little support? Although Maduro and his PSUV party have declared victory, the opposition candidate, Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, has not conceded defeat as he is arguing that major voting irregularities took place and is demanding a recount. If Maduro does emerge victorious, he can hardly brag about having won a landslide victory like his mentor used to do.
In spite of recent polls that gave Capriles hope for a possible upset,Maduro was able to emerge as the winner. Nevertheless, it is debatable as to what extent Venezuelans voted for Maduro, because of his own platform and his promise to follow in Chavez’s footsteps. It is more likely that his election was made possible by the so-called “sympathy votes” created by Chavez’s open endorsement of Maduro as his successor. Moreover, when Chavez defeated Capriles in theOctober 2012 elections, Chavez received around 54 percent of the votes. This time, Maduro only leads by about 1 percentage point (less than 235,000 votes).
It is important to highlight that, despite a few unfounded conspiracy myths, the election happened without any major incidents; this has been a welcome development, as there was concern for violence possibly erupting between pro-Maduro/PSUV supporters against Capriles’ team. While no physical violence occurred on Sunday’s Election Day,Maduro’s Twitter accountwas apparently hacked by a branch of Anonymous, which posted several explicit tweets.
Capriles and his supporters are calling for a recount based on election fraud, citing over 3,000 voting irregularities. Meanwhile, Venezuela’sNational Electoral Council(CNE in Spanish), has already declared Maduro as the winner. Chavez’s regional allies, such as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Cuba’s Raul Castro, have already congratulated Nicolas Maduro. (Kirchner’s fast congratulatory message can be contrasted to the Argentine government’s uncomfortable silence regarding the recent passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher).
Ruling in Chavez’s shadow
Assuming that the results hold, the question now becomes what kind of president Nicolas Maduro will be. There are several factors that should help his presidency. Namely, the Venezuelan governmental apparatus is overwhelmingly controlled by the PSUV and which had declared its loyalty to Chavez – a loyalty that is expected to be transferred to his political heir, Maduro. This includes the country’s judiciary and legislative systems. In addition, the ruling party controls20 of Venezuela’s 23 governorships. Finally, in spite of having declared its nonpartisanship, the Venezuelan military (the FANB) is generally believed to have preferred Nicolas Maduro’s candidacy. All these factors, in theory, this should help Maduro carry out his agenda as his initiatives won’t face much opposition in the National Assembly or the threat of a military coup (which was a concern among analysts if Capriles had won).
It is a staple of politics, not just in Latin America but also around the world, for a new government to blame its country’s problems on previous governments and opposing political parties. Nevertheless, Maduro doesn’t have that option given all the factors that are in his favor.
His party has been in power for over a decade, and he could not in good conscience blame Venezuelan woes, for example problems such as an increasingly volatile economy, on Chavez; this move not only would enrage Chavista supporters, but also make him look hypocritical given the numerous praises and references to Chavez he made during his presidential campaign. The website Madurodice.com has been tracking the number of times Maduro has mentioned Chavez’s name in his speeches and declarations, so far the tally is over 7,000. Furthermore, Nicolas Maduro was part of Chavez’s government for years – he was the minister of foreign affairs prior to becoming the vice president. Thus, he would essentially be blaming himself if he tries to attribute any new crisis that appears within the first months in power on the old regime. He could try blaming el imperio (“the empire,” meaning Washington), or Colombia (heaccused Bogotaof trying to “poison the electoral climate,” prior to the elections), but shifting the blame to outside powers may eventually turn ambivalent supporters against him.
As for the opposition, they will have to wait until 2018 to challenge Maduro and the PSUV party. As has often been mentioned, Maduro lacks the charisma and popularity that Chavez cultivated. This means that an unsuccessful Maduro presidency may turn away his supporters, losing the “sympathy vote.” The 2018 elections may see the Venezuelan opposition make significant gains, maybe not in the presidency, but certainly in the governorships and in the legislature. Capriles won the majority of votes in eight states (such as Anzoategui, Bolivar, Miranda, Tachira, Merida y Zulia) in the recent elections, which signals that these could be sources of support for opposition candidates in the near future.
Maduro may very well prove himself to be a capable and worthy successor to Chavez, who will be able to solve the country’s problems during his presidency. He may even choose and be successful at running for re-election in 2018. But for right now, Maduro owes his victory to the “sympathy vote.” Nicolas Maduro won, but until he proves himself as a leader in his own right, Venezuelan citizens can keep on saying: long live President Chavez.