Venezuela presidential election: lack of issues becomes the issue

As Venezuela's presidential candidates kick off their campaigns in the lead-up to the April 14 election, some fear the mudslinging is distracting from needed post-Chávez policy debates.

Fernando Llano/AP
Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles hold up posters of him prior to the start of a march against violence in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday. Venezuelans will vote in the presidential elections on April 14.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Venezuela's acting President and presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro talks to children during an opening ceremony of a museum in Caracas Monday.

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

As mentioned before on this blog, the campaign for the April 14 presidential election is shaping up to be largely issue free as Nicolás Maduro, with a comfortable lead, focuses on his connection to the figure of Hugo Chávez, and Henrique Capriles focuses on trying to make clear that “Maduro is not Chávez.”

[Read about some of the issues the next Venezuelan president will have to face here.]

On March 23 the Observatorio Electoral Venezolano, one of the domestic NGOs that has been accredited to observe the election, criticized the lack of content in the campaign in the following terms:

Few ideas are being heard regarding how the difficult task of governance will be assumed over the coming years. Instead, we hear degrading insults of various types that deteriorate the national political climate… an aggressive discourse that obviously does not help political differences, which in any normal electoral debate would be handled through arguments in a pacific manner.

On Sunday March 31, UCV political scientist and pro-government activist Nicmer Evans posted a piece on his blog calling on Maduro to discuss substantive ideas.

I recommend focusing attention on the central themes, such as the role of the communal economy, the construction of the communal state, the role of the private sector in the country’s development, the transformation of state structures, a method for overcoming dependence on oil profits, how to apply the Fatherland Plan that Chávez left (his instruction before dying was for this to be discussed and developed by the bases, something that has not been mentioned again), the method of political collectivization of political decisions, the operationalizion of the formula to resolve inflation and devaluation; we should discuss the price of gasoline, put forward a method to resolve the problem of crime and violence and other problems that anyone who can read could continue to add on to.

Response from the government was swift, with Foreign Minister Elias Jaua responding to Evans with a series of Tweets:

It is surprising that political scientist Nicmer Evans tries to distract @NicolasMaduro, who has the task of directing this battle, with a debate …Who does Evans’ interpolation of @NicolasMaduro help? In the midst of battle, the soldier closes ranks behind he who leads…Let’s go patriots, let no one be distracted from the defense of the popular mandate and legacy of Comandante Chávez. You’re doing well @NicolasMaduro, you’re doing well…Everyone close ranks behind @NicolasMaduro in this battle for the life of the Fatherland. Later there will be time for debate. 

The next day Evans announced on Twitter that managers of the state radio station Radio Nacional de Venezuela had decided not to run his weekly program this Monday, but that he hoped the program would return to the air next week. Later that day he posted a rejoinder stating, among other things, “what is important is to reanimate the political discussion in our country which, in my view, has been banalized by a pragmatic electoral vision."

Today, the first day of the campaign, pollster and political analysis Luis Vicente Leon tweeted a series of messages suggesting that classist, racist, homophobic, and other insults based on social categories were not politically effective.  ”Voters care little about insults. They are interested in a candidate’s capacity (or incapacity) to resolve their daily problems.”

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

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