05 December, 2005

Parliamentary Elections in Venezuela

"Now they've accelerated their own demise."

Says Chavez, in a translation that's featured in many articles covering yesterday's parliamentary elections in Venezuela. The quote is in reference to the withdrawal of 5 opposition parties from the elections roster just before the day of the elections. In Spanish, however, the word-choice is a bit more coarse. Instead of "fallecimiento" (or 'demise') what he actually said was "muerte" (or 'death'). In other words, a "quickening of their own death." Here's his quote in the original Spanish,

"Les llegó la hora de la muerte y a lo mejor ellos mismos desde el fondo de su alma así lo aceptan en el subconsciente, e hicieron lo que han hecho, acelerar la muerte, para quedar en los registros de la historia y darle paso a gente nueva, a ideas nuevas."

Not that "new ideas" are bad ideas, but this "death" may not be due entirely to the opposition's efforts during these elections. Says Chavez that the parties that abstained "could result no only delegitimized but, rather, outlawed," in accordance with electoral laws (this last line from an article featured in "El Nuevo Heraldo," of Miami).

That said, let's take a look at the abstention figures.

The CNE and Vice President have confirmed 75% abstentionism. This compares to the predicted figure offered by pro-Chavez parties and the government itself, at 60%. At the same time, abstention in 2000 was at 73%, though that was under a more stable political climate (and thanks in part to a fatigued voting population). To be fair, figures are making the rounds that claim up to 60% abstention in the barrios and working-class neighborhoods of the country, versus something closer to 90% in the more affluent and middle-class areas.

And if you asked anyone outside of the opposition, the US is behind the recent boycott. A convenient repositioning of the quotidian scapegoat, from the homegrown oppo to the foreign "criminal" state? Of course, the US is no new enemy to Chavez and a recent bid to provide subsized gas in three cities in the North American country (which I discussed here) has been interpreted as either a gesture of good will, or a move to shame and spite Bush. In the end, it's yet another example of Chavez's over-reliance on Oil Diplomacy.

Sumate, the same oppo group that campaigned against Chavez during the Referendo last year, issued a call to prayer on Sunday. Instead of going to the urns, they asked people to join them before the altar. Though it should be said that, in a country where practically everyone belongs to the Roman Catholic religion, the turn-out at mass on Sunday was somewhat dismal. Yes, the opposition is divided over whether to vote or not to vote, as is evidence not only by the 50% withdrawal of oppo candidates, but also by the fact that few showed up for mass. Some called it somewhat blasphemous to involve the church (see Nuevo Heraldo article above). I leave you with the following quote. In response to voter abstention, Iris Varela, a vocal pro-Chavez member of parliament, asked to "fire from their jobs every civil servant that fails to go out and vote." Such statements (and indeed, efforts), it should be said, are not new coming from the Chavista side of the bleachers. If you haven't heard about the Maisanta software, go here.

For a good summary of events surrounding the elections go here.

Update: Contrary to the figure I offered, the abstention rate in the parliamentary elections of 2000 was much lower. The rate was around 44%. Quico, at CaracasChronicles, offers that this abstention rate may be explained, in part, by the fact that presidential elections were taking place at the time. The results for the parliamentary elections of 2000 can be found here. For stats on elections in general in Venezuelan since 1989, go here. As you'll notice in this last document, abstention rates in parliamentary elections hovered around 40% throughout the 90s. In contrast, then, we can safely say that the recent abstention rates of 75% are remarkable.

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