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Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Chavismo flops without Chavez

Posted: 04/18/2013 5:58 PM | Comments: 0

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Instead of the resounding endorsement they were hoping for in Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela, allies of the late president Hugo Chavez got a message from the electorate: Enough of Chavismo and the failed policies of "21st Century Socialism."

The late president’s longtime political crony, interim President Nicolas Maduro, says he edged out opposition leader Henrique Capriles, but Mr. Capriles refuses to concede defeat and reasonably demands a recount.

The very close margin between the candidates, multiple accounts of chicanery in the balloting and vote counting and government control of the electoral machinery lend credence to his doubts.

At the very least, the 40-year-old challenger scored a moral victory.

Mr. Maduro and his allies, seeking to capitalize on the sympathy vote for the late president, pulled out all the stops in going for a win. Mr. Maduro called himself a "son" of Mr. Chavez and claimed the mantle of leadership over the Bolivarian movement his mentor created.

But he failed to make a convincing showing, even though he enjoyed all the advantages: a virtual monopoly in campaign advertisements, the full-throated endorsement of the powerful military and the huge patronage machine consisting of government employees and party members Mr. Chavez created.

If anything, the election highlighted the profound divisions within the Venezuelan electorate that date back to the early days of Mr. Chavez’s reign as president. The economy is a mess, with inflation at well over 20 per cent and the currency undergoing two devaluations in the last few months.

Crime is rampant, food shortages are increasing and electrical brownouts and blackouts are daily occurrences. And there’s worse ahead: The state-run oil company, PDVSA — the lifeline of the economy — is crumbling.

Add to that Mr. Maduro’s own obvious shortcomings as a candidate and as a leader and you have the makings of an enduring crisis.

The 50-year-old former union activist fits the profile of a typical party boss, but he is not an inspiring leader. Many voters who supported Mr. Chavez in last November’s presidential election — which he won by taking a hefty 55 per cent margin — failed to back his chosen successor. As one disillusioned former Chavez supporter said of Mr. Maduro, "Just because he has Superman’s cape doesn’t mean he can fly."

Mr. Maduro’s lack of charisma is compounded by an absence of administrative experience, which makes it even more unlikely that he can fix what’s wrong with Venezuela.

Nor will the corrupt government apparatus he inherited make it any easier to clean up the economic mess.

Given this bleak future and Mr. Capriles’ strong showing, the Obama administration and countries that support democracy should endorse the call for a transparent, verifiable recount. On Monday, the White House did just that.

But Venezuela’s National Electoral Council "certified" Mr. Maduro’s victory Monday — despite his promises after Sunday’s election that he would back an audit.

The people of Venezuela have courageously stood up to the bullies of the Bolivarian movement and deserve the support of other nations and international organizations that believe in fair play and a clean vote.

— The Miami Herald

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