Last call for Venezuela? 2012 election may be last chance for democratic opposition
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
After months of indecision, Venezuela’s National Elections Council finally made it official late September – the next presidential election will be held in October 2012.
Now is the time for Venezuela’s chronically divided democratic opposition to put aside its differences and resolve to challenge President Hugo Chavez with a unity candidate.
A coalition of opposition parties has already declared that it will pick a single contender to go up against Chavez and his electoral machine, but previous efforts to maintain a united front against the powerful leader and his all-encompassing political apparatus have fallen short.
Given Chavez’s brazen attempts to remain in office at all costs – and his open declaration that he has no intention of abandoning power – the opposition has good reason to doubt whether a victory at the polls would be recognized by the government.
But a strong showing is still necessary to demonstrate that Venezuelans have not given up on the possibility of controlling their own future.
Credible polling figures say Chavez remains popular with many Venezuelans, with his favorability ratings anywhere from half to nearly 60 percent, depending on the poll.
But last year, the opposition won 52 percent of the votes in parliamentary elections. Under the Chavez-rigged system, that failed to translate into majority control of the legislative branch, but it’s an important straw in the wind. And in 2008, Chavez opponents won populous states in regional elections.
For Venezuelans, stepping up to challenge the regime is no easy task. Prominent opponents have found themselves thrown in jail on trumped-up charges, and news outlets that attempted to report information questioning the government’s actions have come under enormous pressure, with some broadcasters losing their licenses to operate.
After more than 12 years as president, Hugo Chavez has systematically dismantled the democratic institutions of Venezuela, making himself a popularly elected autocrat rather than a democrat.
He controls the courts and the legislature, as well as many governorships and municipalities, where he has installed his own capos to run things.
Last year the archbishop of Caracas accused Chavez of installing a “Marxist-communist” regime in the country. And that was before the legislature hastily approved a package of laws in December creating a parallel governing order that would eventually replace the nominal democracy in Venezuela. In effect, Chavez can govern by decree.
The president’s unrestricted power is the fundamental issue facing Venezuela’s voters, and the one that the opposition should hammer at every turn. Another involves state corruption.
Last year, the corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Venezuela among the least transparent (and most corrupt) countries in the world – 162nd out of 180, right there with Angola and both Congos.
And, yes, Chavez’s minions are involved in it up to their necks. Last week, four of his allies were accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of violating a “narcotics kingpin” law by collaborating with an outlawed Colombian group in narcotics and arms trafficking.
The accusation will likely have little impact on Venezuela’s government and its relations with the United States – already near rock-bottom – but it should cause the people of Venezuela to question the leadership of their government.
Next year may offer the last, best chance for them to effect change at the ballot box.
In a related development, Venezuela’s opposition has urged the government to allow a popular former mayor to run for the presidency in 2012 after the Inter-American Human Rights Court said the state was wrong for barring him from office. The court ruled hours earlier that the Venezuelan government had violated Leopoldo López’s political rights when it sidelined him from holding public office in 2008 amid corruption allegations.
The attorney general leveled those charges in an administrative process that denied López the right to defend himself in court.
If the government does lift the ban, López would be among the front-runners in the October 2012 presidential race.