The long and divisive election season is over, and while the incumbent seems to have lost much of the revolutionary charm he had when first elected, Hugo Chavez has been granted another six-year term by the voters in Venezuela.
Chavez, known to most Americans as the fiery opponent of the “Devil,” George W. Bush, has led the Latin American country toward Bolivian socialism since 1998. And to his socialist credit, he has worked to strengthen the power of the Venezuelan indigenous and women, while reducing poverty, illiteracy and public health problems.
However, he worryingly spoke of continuing on with his revolutionary plans in his post-election speech, instead of mollifying some of the social problems that have built up over his administration.
Despite the tenfold rise in the price of oil, the main source of Venezuela’s wealth, public infrastructure remains weak with shoddy roads and rolling electrical blackouts common. Organized crime, fueled by food shortages, has blossomed, and Caracas is now famous for the world’s highest murder rate. The Bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, is facing serious inflation as the fossil-fueled economy lacks diversity.
With such problems, the electoral turnout of over 80 percent was the highest ever, and the opposition did remarkably well. Facing state-dominated media rules for coverage, as well as orchestrated plots by local governments loyal to Chavez to upstage opposition rallies, the opponent candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski still managed to receive over 45 percent of the vote.
Such an unusually close election should serve to temper the radical aspirations of Chavez, or at least warn him of growing unified challenge to his dominant style of rule. Under Chavez’s restructuring, a huge network of support based on political patronage has formed, and his executive branch has taken large amounts of power. He removed term limits, and by 2019, will already have two decades in power. He could seek to rule into the 2030’s as he has claimed. The legislature is dominated by Chavistas and he has shut down journalists and judges who stood in his way.
Worse, mirroring our national dysfunctional politics, Chavez’s rhetoric has seriously expanded the political divides in Venezuela. He referred to his opponents’ supporters as “good for nothing” and “fascists,” and violence had broken out at political rallies.
The last time Chavez ran for president, he got almost two-thirds of the vote. Hopefully, this close election shows him that he no longer has an electoral mandate to remake Venezuela in his vision, and must instead work to benefit the entirety of the Venezuelan society.
Patrick Quinlan is a freshman majoring in international studies and political science.