In Venezuela, Chávez Wins Reelection against Reinvigorated Opposition

By Rachel Glickhouse

On October 7, Venezuelan voters reelected President Hugo Chávez, who won 54 percent of the vote and was guaranteed another six years in power.

Updated October 7, 2012--With 90 percent of the votes counted, President President Hugo Chávez won reelection on Sunday, guaranteeing him another six-year term after nearly 14 years in power. Chávez, of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 54.42 percent of the vote, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles of the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) won 44.87 percent. There are no runoff elections in Venezuela; the National Electoral Council (CNE) declared Chávez the winner as the candidate with the largest number of votes, and the president begins his next term in January 2013. The CNE also reported that the election saw record voter turnout at nearly 81 percent, a large number in a country where voting is not mandatory. A Chávez victory guarantees continuation of the president’s “Bolivarian revolution,” whereas Capriles had aimed to follow a Brazilian model, mixing social programs with private sector development.

Top issues for voters included security and the economy. Venezuela has the world’s fourth-highest highest homicide rate, and the country saw nearly 16,000 kidnappings last year. Roberto Briceño-León of the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia told Fox News Latino that “the government is confused as to how to respond to the upswing in crime...they want to use new solutions, but they just aren't working." Poverty levels dropped dramatically since Chávez first entered office, and have been reduced by half. Still, poverty has remained persistent at around 27 percent for the last five years. Youth unemployment rose to 18.7 percent in July, 2 points higher than the previous year. (By comparison, Brazil’s youth unemployment rate stands at around 15 percent.) Meanwhile, inflation increased by over 1,400 percent since 1999. Due to declining agricultural production, the country must import 70 percent of the food products it consumes, sometimes leading to food shortages.

Young people and expatriates were important groups in the election. Of the country’s 7.5 million people between the ages of 18 and 30, 40 percent are registered to vote; consequently, both candidates courted this group. Chávez counts 2.5 million youth in the PSUV, and he created a youth ministry and opened more spots for students at public universities. Capriles also enjoys a youth following, and said he would depend on this voting bloc in order to win. Expatriates, too, were considered key, as many tend to vote for the opposition. Around 99,600 voters registered abroad before the election.

Candidates adopted different campaign techniques; the president promoted government initiatives while Capriles pledged change. Chávez focused his campaign on promising to continue the “Bolivarian revolution” and to maintain popular social programs, known as misiones. He raised social spending in the year ahead of the election, as well as launching state-funded infrastructure projects. He also vowed to reduce spiraling crime rates. In spite of recovering from cancer treatment, Chávez managed to hit the campaign trail, as well as using state-run media to promote his candidacy. As well as touting his government programs, Chávez sought to cast the opposition as a threat, saying Capriles would eliminate the misiones and privatize the education and health systems. He even claimed Capriles’ campaign received money from narcotraffickers. He also warned that the opposition could try to destabilize the country with violence after the election.

Capriles led a campaign that brought him to 260 communities all over the country in eight months, vowing to continue social programs and increase security. He professed to be an admirer of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and wants to introduce a Brazilian-like model which "combines the public and the private sectors with social responsibility." In contrast to Chávez, Capriles proposed ending currency and price controls, as well as nationalizations. He aims to crack down on corruption, and to end Venezuela’s low-cost oil agreements with Latin American countries. He also said he would meet with Cuban leader Raúl Castro to discuss the continuation of Venezuela’s oil-for-doctors exchange.

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