Venezuelan election: key takeaways from a Chávez victory

Chávez accepted his victory with grace on Sunday, and both candidates’ acceptance of the results suggest it’s time for Washington to rethink its approach on Venezuela.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez holds a Venezuelan flag as he greets his supporters from the Miraflores presidential palace balcony in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 7. Chávez won re-election and a new endorsement of his socialist project Sunday, surviving his closest race yet after a bitter campaign against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.

A couple of hours after the results were announced, here are my initial reactions. Winning by 9.5 percent represents a real decline from the three previous presidential elections which Hugo Chávez has won by 15 to 20 percent. However it is still a decisive victory that President Chávez accepted with grace. While previous victories have led to vitriolic triumphalism, [Sunday night] Chávez was more circumspect in his celebration.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles recognized the electoral defeat quickly and gave no encouragement to the “plan B” of saying the electoral playing field was unfair. Indeed he actively discouraged the “creative radicalism” of some elements of the opposition. This would seem to reinforce the predominance of the new generation of opposition politicians represented by Mr. Capriles and campaign manager Armando Briquet. However, the fact that Capriles did not make any reference to the December regional elections suggests to me that not all is settled in the opposition camp. If Capriles had lost by 5 percent or less, his dominance in the opposition coalition would have been ensured. But losing by almost 10 percent means there could well be a struggle for leadership.

It will be interesting to see what this electoral result will mean in the international community. While some in Washington recently revealed “Chavez’s plan to steal the election,” and announced that “the fix is in,” Capriles accepted the electoral loss without qualification. 

Of course it would have been difficult for him to do otherwise. During this electoral process, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) allowed for more audits of the electronic platform than ever before. The opposition participated in, and approved all of them. Arguing that the government dominated the media also became difficult when both the CNE and the UCAB, in separate studies, found that Capriles had received more media coverage than Chávez. And focusing on voter intimidation certainly became more difficult when turnout exceeded 80 percent.

Former Ambassador Patrick Duddy’s recent contingency memo had one important suggestion that has not received enough attention. In the opening section he argues: “If Chávez is reelected in a process judged acceptably free and fair, the United States should seek to reset the bilateral relationship with an eye toward the eventual renewal of high-level communication on areas of mutual interest.” [Sunday night's] results and the candidates’ acceptance of them suggest that it’s time for Washington to think through Duddy’s suggestion.

–  David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

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