For the first time in quite a while, Venezuelan's opposition was organized, had momentum and many believed, a reasonable shot at winning the 2012 presidential election held this weekend. Unfortunately, it was a sobering day for many opposition supporters as Henrique Capriles lost by a significant margin. Hugo Chavez will be Venezuela’s president for the next six years.
But despite Capriles' loss, there is still a silver lining for the opposition. Unlike other electoral losers, such as Manuel Obrador, in Mexico, Capriles did not contest the results. Rather, Capriles announced: “For me, what the people say is sacred. It has never passed through my mind to do anything different from what the people have voiced.” The strength and validity of democracy rests, in part, on reiterating the sanctity of its institutions. There is no more sacred an institution in a democratic nation than free and fair elections. Despite having potentially significant domestic and international support to contest the results, Capriles chose to reinforce the validity of the electoral results.
Capriles may have lost the presidency, but his support legitimized the opposition as a viable competitor to Chavez’s rule. Voter turnout in Venezuela was very high, with nearly 75% of eligible voters casting ballots (44.9% who did so for Capriles). These results for Capriles could translate into even larger opposition control in local elections. As the strength of the opposition solidifies, Chavez may consider more compromises, potentially mediating his policies moving ahead.
Finally, it's important to look ahead. Despite its loss, the opposition has solidified its role as a viable alternative in Venezuelan politics. It has an electable leader, a clear political platform and substantial energy. If it can maintain these characteristics, Venezuela will be in a considerably good place in the 2016 elections. Its citizens can now say that they have a competitive party system, a hallmark of a true democracy.