The dawn of a new era
How will voters react?
influence the results of regional elections as well as the future of Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez was not fibbing upon telling the nation that he had cancer, and any subsequent clarification cannot be deemed as commonplace since a portion of the voting public, obviously mistakenly, believed that the announcement consisted of political chicanery to increase his popularity ratings, which did indeed happen, on the basis of compassion and solidarity. It was no tall tale; he was truly ill.
On his sickbed
But a year later, at the start of the electoral campaign, devoid of all sincerity, he claimed that the cancer was in remission. Allegedly, the illness had been overcome, and the fate of the revolution he leads was safe; he was fully fit to be president for yet another six-year term. Therefore, it was a blow for his followers to hear him fess up, two months after being reelected, about his health condition and to name Nicolás Maduro as his successor.
All this takes place at the end of a campaign in which his ailments prevented him from actively taking part in backing his party's candidates to regional governments, many needing that little push that comes from having Chavez alongside, raising their arms in victory and dousing them with the magnetism he exudes and that they so evidently lack. Nevertheless, reality hit hard at the last minute, despite trying to avoid it through massive efforts and heroic simulation. Like it or not, Chavez influences elections and, this time, he managed to do so from his sickbed.
The pity vote
After collective prayers, masses and rituals from different religions, it is back to the initial phase of being honest. It seems hard for the second phase (remission announcements) to take place this time around because elections were just held, and circumstances are very different. It seems unlikely for anyone to talk about the president's health improving or, at least, the possibility of being sworn in on January 10.
Having said that, there is no certainty as to how voters will react toward an unprecedented situation in Venezuela's electoral history. An initial and subjective belief is that the pity vote may actually work for the first time (on October 7, the miraculous recovery got him votes). Many voters, however, should have taken into account how one thing was said a day prior to presidential elections and how a very different picture is painted only 60 days later.
The other circumstance is that, despite how difficult it may be for some to grasp, after 14 years of overwhelming presence and unbridled power, sooner or later people will begin to picture a scenario in which the leading actor of an long-running play is simply not there. A regime centered on an individual the great motivator, the great decision-maker, the great meddler, a violent lover, the only man who breathes under water (as in the lyrics of a Hector Lavoe song) who has to stay backstage and push an alternate onto center stage, will end up being unfeasible.
The control exercised by Chavez, the complexity of his power, the scope of his interests (domestic and foreign) and the extent of the changes he intended to re-launch next year, he and no one else is capable of sustaining
them and seeing them through. Not a single person (not even the lofty heir to the throne appointed by the supreme leader) can fill Chavez's void, and this is the main downfall of an autocratic model unable to become a political system capable of outlasting its leaders.
This does not mean that Chavez's ideology will vanish but, without him, things will never be the same and, despite current uncertainty about the near future, voters can understand the need for consensus to give way to inclusion and ultimately to governance. This should leadto balanced voting, more than spite voting, though it may still be too soon for most of the population to embrace such a radical change in how the country is run.
On the other side of the fence, many propose an agreement with the government, and this is evidenced in the statements made by certain traditional-party leaders. Nevertheless, circumstances call for readiness in light of any possible scenarios. The official sector has already named its candidate; and the democratic coalition, without time to call for primary internal elections, will now have to decide based on electoral results who their candidate will be.
Initially, Henrique Capriles stands out as the main option because he is a well-positioned leader at a national level, with an unparalleled political base and experience. Should he climb back in the ring, it would not be a for new fight, but for yet another round in an ongoing bout.
Translated by Félix Rojas Alva
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.