Venezuela Election 2012: Hugo Chavez Faces Closest Election Since 1998

A crossroad has been reached in Venezuelan recent history. On Sunday, Venezuelans are going to decide if they want to continue with the regime inaugurated by Chavez 14 years ago, for a new six-year period, or change into a completely new direction. I want to take the chance to cast out some common misconceptions on Venezuelan politics.

1. Venezuelan elections are unfair because the Chavez regime uses government resources and oil revenues for campaigning, putting the opposition in a serious disadvantage. However, elections themselves are hardly fraudulent. We have an electronic system with machines that register every vote, and they are never wired to any external web until the final count has taken place, so it is technically impossible to change the machines' results. Additionally, these machines print a physical vote that the voter sees before introducing it into a sealed box, like in most countries. At the end of the process boxes are opened and votes counted in front of citizens that have free access to the counting. In few words, there are enough checks and balances to make a massive fraud a very unlikely scenario. Whoever wins will win legitimately.

2. Some polls show Chavez leading by as much as 10 percentage points over his challenger Henrique Capriles. However, others are less optimistic for the president, giving Capriles a 2-point lead. The issue with these polls that are giving Chavez such a huge lead resides in the number of undecided. We can pin this down when we see that he is below 50% of "voters' intentions," and that the gap between him and Capriles is smaller than the level of undecided. Historically undecided voters end up voting for the opposition. This means that polls are hiding behind the undecided an electorate favorable to Capriles, making the race actually a very tight one (something that has never happened since Chavez first took office).  

3. The country is going through a pervasive crisis of basic services, and corruption has spread massively in all directions. The government is suffering from serious attrition due to the state of scarcity, the highest levels of inflation in Latin America and among the highest levels of violence. The popularity of the regime in a historic low, proved by the last parliamentary elections where the government received less than 50% of the votes, with the opposition coming behind with only one point of difference (and that was two years ago).

4. Capriles ran a terrific campaign where he visited every single state, city, and most of towns in the country for the last year, in a tireless, steadfast attempt to gain the confidence of Chavez’ base. His own base have been energized and growing as his campaign message is that of national reconciliation, a stop to class struggle and hatred speech, without annulling Chavez welfare policies for the poor. In sooth, a change for peace and harmony after 14 years of confrontation, insults, aggression and violence. Many opinion writers agree that he has won the median voter already, and that he has real chances of winning. 

5. Chavez is gravely sick, which came as some kind of a blessing for Venezuelan prospects of future democracy. If people perceive that he lacks the strength to lead the country in his usually macho way, many of his supporters might not even turn up to vote. Abstention is a serious threat for his regime now. Not for the opposition that shows a very enthusiastic base clearly seen in the rallies and through the social networks. But emotion fervor for Chavez is still at large, so most likely we will see a close result on Sunday.

If Capriles wins, a series of problems appear ahead. Will Chavez peacefully acknowledge a defeat? He has already threatened publicly that if he loses, a civil war should be unleashed. Hopefully his supporters won’t have the minerals to completely abandon the democratic ways. Additionally, with so many powerful groups based on massive corruption, traffic of drugs, backgrounds of repression of civil liberties, will they negotiate an institutional transition themselves and be willing to shift to the opposition? These will not be easy questions to answer should Capriles win the election, but hopefully the electoral results will empower his agenda of progress and reconciliation.