The Road Ahead for Venezuela

December 11th, 2006 § 0 comments

The Opposition’s Historical Concession and the Road Ahead for Venezuela

In most liberal democracies a concession by the losing candidate is an ordinary event that takes place once every election cycle. In Venezuela, though, it has become an extremely rare event, so rare that it has not happened since Chavez was first re-elected in 2000. That is, in Venezuela the losing side, which since Chavez’s first election has always been the country’s former political elite, has almost always denied that it was the loser. Instead, it went about claiming that it didn’t really lose and that Chavez was actually an illegitimate president.

The first time this happened was following the April 2002 coup attempt, when most of the opposition flatly denied that a coup ever took place. Instead, it claimed the incident was a “vacuum of power” and that Chavez had orchestrated it himself, in order to increase his power. Only four years later have opposition leaders, such as Súmate director Maria Corina Machado and opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales acted with embarrassment about the suggestion that they signed the coup decree that eliminated all of the country’s democratic institutions. Rather than take responsibility for their action and admitting it was a serious mistake, they have consistently denied either knowing what they signed or that it was just an “attendance sheet” for coup president Pedro Carmona’s swearing-in ceremony.

Next, following the disastrous two month shutdown of the oil industry, from December 2002 through January 2003, the opposition leaders responsible for this action, Carlos Ortega, Carlos Fernandez, and Juan Fernandez, fled the country with hardly a single opposition leader that supported the action admitting to how disastrous this failure was or taking responsibility for it.

Then, following the opposition’s loss to Chavez in the August 2004 recall referendum, instead of admitting defeat and offering a concession speech, the opposition, without a shred of proof, claimed that fraud had been committed in the referendum. Eventually, it seems, the truth of the loss sank in with a large part of the opposition’s followers, but, in the process, they realized just how irresponsibly the opposition had been acting. This is what explains why the percentage of the population that said it identified with the opposition dropped so dramatically following the recall referendum, from about 30-40% it dropped to around 15%.

As if this lack of responsibility taking were not enough, the opposition committed yet another blunder in December 2005, when it boycotted the National Assembly elections. It had hoped to cast doubt on the election by claiming they were not fair and transparent, despite the assurances of international observers that they were. When the plan backfired and the opposition was left without a single representative in the new and internationally recognized National Assembly, again there was not a single opposition leader to take responsibility for the failed action.

Not that Rosales has explicitly taken responsibility for his loss to Chavez in this election. However, the mere admission of defeat is a highly significant move already because it is a recognition by the opposition, for the first time since 1998, that Chavez is indeed the legitimately elected president and that that the opposition does not currently enjoy the support of the country’s majority. For a political class, which for decades was used to the idea that it represented the country’s mainstream and the only rational way to conduct politics, to finally recognize such a defeat is highly significant because it opens up the possibility for a new era in Venezuelan politics; one in which the opposing sides recognize each others’ legitimacy.

Where Will Venezuela Go From Here?

With the opposition finally having become more “normal” and with Chavez and his supporters not only firmly in power, but with the ability to claim a mandate, given Chavez’s 26 percentage point advantage over the opposition, the Bolivarian Revolution is free to pursue 21st century socialism in earnest. Chavez has repeatedly declared that should he be reelected he would “deepen” the revolution. What, if anything, does this mean, though?

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Labels: Politix, Venezuela

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