Venezuelan Parliamentary Elections
September 24, 2010
Q1: What is the significance of the Venezuelan parliamentary elections on September 26?
A1: These will be the first competitive legislative elections in Venezuela since 2000, the opposition having boycotted the 2005 elections, resulting in total government control of the unicameral National Assembly (AN). The September 26 vote will take place in a highly polarized electoral climate. Both sides portray the election as a plebiscite on President Hugo Chávez. Although Venezuelans will elect candidates for 165 seats in the AN, support for, or opposition to, Chávez is the central factor in the vote. Aside from a small but significant movement—the Fatherland for All (PPT) party, formerly supportive of Chávez but now independent—voters will focus their choice on pro-government candidates of Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) or candidates selected by an umbrella group of opposition forces—the “Mesa de Unidad Democrática.” The elections on September 26 will therefore provide further evidence of change or continuity in popular support for Chávez and the opposition in the run-up to the presidential elections of 2012.
Q2: Who is expected to win?
A2: There will be several ways in which the results can be analyzed. Earlier this year, the AN passed legislation that changed electoral procedures to bring about a substantial over-representation for rural electoral districts—where Chávez has overwhelming support. Important urban voting districts—where the opposition is strong—also have been gerrymandered to give government candidates a further advantage. Under these circumstances, the opposition will elect fewer candidates than their numbers would warrant in a proportional system. The goal of the government is to control a two-thirds majority of seats in the new National Assembly, allowing it to pass any type of law—even “organic” laws that are key to institutional organization. The opposition, for its part, seeks at least enough seats to prevent a two-thirds majority for the government. The PPT hopes to win as many as eight seats in congress and play the role of a power broker. Both sides are seeking an absolute majority in the overall number of votes cast nationally.
Q3: How will this election affect future politics in Venezuela?
A3: The September 26 election is an important precursor for the presidential elections of 2012. Chávez’s popularity has dropped in the wake of the economic downturn in 2009, high inflation, and ballooning crime rates. The vote on Sunday—especially the overall popular vote—will provide further indications of public opinion. While the government will almost certainly win a majority of votes in the AN, the presence of the opposition in the legislature opens the door to public debate on issues. Although the opposition has united around candidates for this election, it has no national leader and does not offer a coherent program or alternative vision for voters other than opposition to Chávez. The government, for its part, has a large advantage in terms of resources and media applied to the campaign. Chávez has played a very prominent role, depicting the vote as a key step in deepening the Bolivarian revolution and “warming up the motors” for the 2012 election. A disappointing result on Sunday from his point of view—especially should he not win the overall vote by a comfortable margin—would be a setback.
Peter DeShazo is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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