Hugo Chavez and his supporters suffered a major setback yesterday as the opposition party was able to bust up a substantial ruling majority in Venezuela legislative elections. Chavez’s opponents claim to have received 52% of the popular vote, but through odd proportionality rules that favor rural areas where Chavez is strongest, couldn’t get an outright majority.
Still, it’s important for Venezuela in that the rubber-stamp legislature that cozily went along with everything Chavez wanted is now defunct. Chavez still remains the most popular politician in Venezuela, but his approval has taken a beating during the economic downturn and following energy woes that led to a strengthening of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition, who foolishly boycotted the 2005 elections and resulted in Chavez being able to consolidate power.
The popular vote claim is an important one for many Venezuelans, as Chavez and his allies assert that they indeed won the most votes, while Democratic Unity says that they did. The Venezuelan election authority web site has a variety of totals up for the Chavez’s PSUV party and a host of other parties, but it seems that we’re quibbling over a few percentage points here. The reality is that Venezuela isn’t vastly taken with Chavez’s Bolivarian socialist ways – it’s evenly split in a way that its government must recognize going forward.
The question now is, will they? The fact that Venezuela hs elections proves Chavez isn’t a totalitarian dictator, but there’s no denying he’s a strong authoritarian who has shut down media opposition outlets and hounded political opponents out of the spotlight, all the while blustering and swaggering on the world stage, including sticking his nose into the Honduras presidential crisis. I doubt Chavez would be so foolish as to ignore results like these – then again, he’s a political strongman, and folks like him have a way of pushing for what they want regardless of the desires of those around them.