A New Phase in Venezuela's Election Aftermath

3 MINS READApr 19, 2013 | 10:30 GMT
A New Phase in Venezuela's Election Aftermath
Supporters of Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski protest in Caracas on April 16

Debate continues in Venezuela over the logistics of a vote recount ahead of Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro's inauguration April 19. The Venezuelan opposition has submitted an official petition to the National Electoral Council for a full audit of the April 14 election results. Maduro's campaign chief voiced his support of a full recount and Maduro said he would abide by whatever decision the council makes. This suggests Maduro is confident that an audit will confirm his win. With the question of a recount seemingly on its way to being settled and Maduro likely to remain in the presidency, the aftermath of the election appears to be entering a new phase.

The electoral council has 20 days from the submission of a petition to choose a course of action. The basic issue under debate is how to conduct an audit given Venezuela's electronic voting system. The opposition is requesting that 100 percent of polling stations and all material related to the election, including receipts from electronic voting machines, be audited to validate the voting results, which were very close. Maduro secured 51 percent of the vote to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski's 49 percent. The government, including the Supreme Court, argues that the opposition's request is unrealistic. However, with Maduro showing support for some form of recount and Capriles calling off a major march that had been scheduled for April 17, a compromise between the government and the opposition appears likely.

This by no means implies that the political crisis in Venezuela is over, just that it has entered a new phase. If the original vote count is upheld, the conflict between the Venezuelan opposition and the government that succeeds that of former President Hugo Chavez will move to the floor of the National Assembly and the court of public opinion. Already the National Assembly has become a center of heated dispute. President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello has barred lawmakers who do not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro's presidency from speaking, and he has removed four of them from leadership positions within the National Assembly. As the weeks progress, opportunities for confrontation will likely increase between the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the opposition.

The past five days of unrest and political vitriol in Venezuela have given Capriles an opening to try to delegitimize Maduro as a politician. Maduro is not as popular as his predecessor, and he will face a series of difficult choices as he attempts to manage a dilapidated state structure with shrinking resources.

By standing up to Maduro, Capriles risks placing himself in a position similar to that of 2006 presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, who went into exile after his failed bid to challenge Chavez. But Capriles remains the governor of Miranda state and is working to establish the credibility and unity of the Venezuelan opposition, which is at best a coalition of fractious parties prone to infighting. Against Chavez, the opposition was weak. With Maduro holding the presidency, the opposition has the hope of returning to power — particularly if blame for the country's economic woes is eventually cast on Maduro.

This dispute has revealed deep fissures in how the international community views Venezuela. While the United States stands firmly in favor of a recount, UNASUR and Mercosur strongly support Maduro. South American leaders held an emergency meeting April 17 to forge a consensus on how best to unify in support of Chavez's successor. In fact, the United States may stand relatively alone on this issue. Countries from all over the world have come out in support of Maduro. His task going forward will be to lead a highly polarized country, and he will try to carry out that task with far less public support domestically than his predecessor enjoyed and in the face of countless economic challenges. 

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