Foes Keep Chavez from Overwhelming Legislative Majority

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 27, 2010

NOTE:  Under the presidency of Hugo Chávez Venezuela has seen sweeping and radical shifts in social policy, moving away from the government officially embracing a free market economy and neoliberal reform principles and towards quasi-socialist income redistribution and social welfare programs. (from wikipedia)

(by Christopher Toothaker, WashingtonTimes.com) AP, CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez’s opponents blocked him from capturing an overwhelming majority in Venezuela’s congressional election, making gains that could challenge the firebrand leader’s tight grip on power.

With the vast majority of votes from Sunday’s election counted, Mr. Chavez’s socialist party won at least 96 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition coalition won at least 61 seats, National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena said early Monday. The remaining eight seats either went to a small splinter party or had not yet been determined, she said.

Mr. Chavez hailed it as a “solid victory” in an online posting on Twitter, but he fell short of his goal of keeping the two-thirds majority that has allowed his allies to push through controversial changes unopposed. Until now, pro-Chavez lawmakers have been able to rewrite laws unopposed and unilaterally [involving only one group; one-sided] appoint officials, including Supreme Court justices and members of the electoral council.

A crowd of government supporters who gathered outside the presidential palace showed mixed emotions when Ms. Lucena announced the results. Some showed disappointment by holding their heads in their hands while others thrust their fists in the air, declared the outcome a triumph.

Earlier, Chavez backers drove through downtown Caracas celebrating, waving party flags and honking horns. Powerful fireworks exploded above the streets, echoing throughout much of the capital.

Opposition leaders celebrated at the coalition’s headquarters in Caracas, where they hugged and kissed one another amid smiling supporters.

In the western state of Zulia, where the opposition won 12 of the 15 posts up for grabs, Gov. Pablo Perez attributed the opposition’s gains to the coalition’s decision to field a single candidate for each of the 165 seats being contested.

“We showed Venezuela that we can advance if we’re united,” Mr. Perez said.

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Polls suggest Mr. Chavez remains the most popular politician in Venezuela, yet surveys also have shown a decline in his popularity in the past two years as disenchantment has grown over the nation’s persisting domestic problems.

The opposition, which boycotted the last legislative elections in 2005, dramatically increased its representation beyond the dozen or so lawmakers who defected from Mr. Chavez’s camp in the current National Assembly.

The opposition’s goal was to win a majority of the assembly’s seats. Even though they fell short, they will be able to put some constraints on Mr. Chavez’s lawmaking power because they prevented his allies from winning a two-thirds majority.

“There’s going to be some paralysis in the assembly because many decisions require a two-thirds majority. It’s going to put some brakes on Chavez’s project,” said Gregory Wilpert, author of the book “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power.”

“For the opposition it’s a mixed bag, but it’s a step forward in the sense that they’ve committed themselves to playing the democratic game,” Mr. Wilpert added, noting the opposition attempted – and failed – to oust Mr. Chavez in a 2002 coup. Then opponents boycotted the last congressional vote in 2005, allowing Chavistas to dominate the assembly.

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, leader of the opposition coalition, criticized an election law passed by Mr. Chavez’s allies that redrew some legislative districts and gave greater weight to votes in rural areas, where the president remains more popular. Opposition candidates agreed to participate in the elections and respect the results as long as the vote count was transparent.

Since he first was elected in 1998, Mr. Chavez has fashioned himself as a revolutionary-turned-president, carrying on the legacy of his mentor, Fidel Castro, with a nationalist vision and a deep-seated antagonism toward the U.S. government. He largely has funded his government with Venezuela’s ample oil wealth, touting social programs targeted to his support base.

During the campaign, Mr. Chavez portrayed the vote as a choice between his “Bolivarian Revolution” and opposition politicians he accuses of serving the interests of the wealthy and his adversaries in the U.S. government.

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez, Jorge Rueda and Ian James contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Washington Times, LLC.   Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.

Questions

STUDENTS:  Read the information under “Background” below before answering the questions.

1. a) Who is the president of Venezuela?
b) What is the capital of Venezuela?
c) List the countries that border Venezuela.

2. What is significant about Sunday’s election in Venezuela? (see para. 1-3, 11-12)

3. What actions have lawmakers loyal to socialist President Chavez been able to take when they held the two-thirds majority?

4. Why has President Chavez’s popularity recently declined?

5. A mentor is defined as “a trusted counselor or guide.” Who is Hugo Chavez’s mentor?

CHALLENGE QUESTIONS: Read the BBC article on Hugo Chavez (link is in “Resources” below the questions).
a) Questions regarding what topics visibly upset Mr. Chavez?
b) How would you describe President Chavez?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.

Background

VENEZUELA:
From a previous article posted at washingtontimes.com:

  • Hugo Chavez was not on the ballot, but [this election became] a referendum on his nearly 12 years in power, during which [time] he has slowly imposed a socialist revolution domestically and promoted an anti-American agenda abroad.
  • Chavez’s approval rating recently fell below 50 percent as Venezuela’s oil-centered economy sputtered. The country’s gross domestic product shrank 3.3 percent last year while the annual inflation rate soared above 30 percent.
  • Five years after boycotting the last round of legislative elections, opposition [candidates] – now unified within the Coalition for Democratic Unity – are hammering the government with charges of widespread corruption and what they describe as an ongoing assault on democracy.
  • “We Venezuelans are choosing between two conceptions of society that are totally different,” opposition National Assembly candidate Maria Corina Machado said in an interview Sunday.  “On one hand, you have a government that has put in place a centralized, militarized government taking over control of all public powers and limiting and reducing civic, economic and political rights for citizens. On the other hand, we have the possibility to build a true, inclusive democratic society in which institutions represent all citizens of all sectors and aren’t used for the benefit of a few in power.”
  • Ms. Machado, a leading organizer of the 2004 presidential-recall referendum – which many analysts say was rigged in Mr. Chavez’s favor – said she was confident that “a wide majority of Venezuelan citizens reject the idea of having an authoritarian regime in Venezuela, want to live in a democracy and realize that this government has been a failure.”  

For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have [ruled] since 1959. Hugo CHAVEZ, president since 1999, has promoted a controversial policy of “democratic socialism,” which [aims] to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability. (From the CIA World FactBook.)

Resources

For further background information on Venezuela, go to the CIA World FactBook.

For a map of Venezuela, go to WorldAtlas.com.

Read an article on Hugo Chavez’s Socialist agenda for Venezuela at newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/hardtalk/8732857.stm.