Chávez headed for apparent narrow reelection in Venezuela

According to Venezuela’s election commission, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has won reelection with 54.42% of the vote in today’s election, apparently, with just 44.97% for Henrique Capriles, his most effective challenger since Chávez was elected as president for the first time in 1998.  Capriles has conceded victory to Chávez. 

The top-notch Caracas Chronicles blog is also reporting that Chávez has won, despite early exit polls that suggested Capriles may have pulled off an upset against Chávez — there’s been no indication as to whether there’s been fraud in the election results, but the election was conducted without international observers.

While the vote may turn out to have been free, it is more difficult to know whether the vote was fair, with many government employees allegedly scared to vote against Chávez, lest they lose their jobs in retribution.

After he is re-inaugurated in January, Chávez’s term will run until 2019.  In power for 14 years, he has brought a uniquely personal brand of ‘Bolivarian’ revolution to Venezuela, and he has now survived an incredibly effective and energetic challenge from the governor of Miranda state, who was supported by a highly unified opposition in the form of the umbrella group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD).  Capriles, however, it could signal the resurgence of a true opposition and the emergence of a more normal politics in the South American country of nearly 30 million people after Chávez won reelection with 61% six years ago.

Serious questions remain about the future of chavismo, however, starting with the health of the president himself, who underwent treatment abroad earlier this year and last year for an unspecified form of cancer.  Beyond questions of Chávez’s health and issues of transition within his party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela), there remains the question of a stagnant economy propped up solely by Venezuelan oil, murder rates and violent crime that’s some of the worst in the world, and government institutions rife with corruption, abuse and waste and a lack of commitment to freedom of speech and expression in many regards.

Chávez’s support for communist regimes in Latin America, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, and pariah states throughout the world, such as Belarus and Iran, and his wider campaign to oppose and irritate the United States, has left the government isolated.

While Chávez has effected a massive redistribution of wealth to the poorest citizens of Venezuela, Capriles accused his government of squandering the country’s oil wealth both at home and abroad through subsidizes for other socialist regimes.  Capriles ran on a program of liberalizing an economy that Chávez has consolidated under state control.  With Chávez’s reelection, however, it seems likely that Chávez will want to consolidate the socialist nature of Venezuela’s government.

Paes wins reelection in Rio in advance of 2016 Olympics; Serra leads mayoral race in São Paulo

Boris Johnson, move over. Eduardo Paes (pictured above, top) was reelected as mayor today of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-most populous — but most evocative — city during municipal elections that saw José Serra (pictured above, bottom), a perennial figure of the Brazilian right, lead the race for mayor of São Paulo.

Paes easily won reelection with 64.60% of the vote, representing a wide coalition that includes not only his own party, the wide Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), but also the leftist Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party) of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.  He faced an energetic opponent in Marcelo Freixo of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, the Socialism and Freedom Party), a state assemblyman in the state of Rio de Janeiro and a human rights activist, who received around 28.15% of the vote after waging a savvy campaign through aggressive use of social networks like Twitter and won the support of much of Brazil’s cultural elite — and his increasing support in the days leading up to today’s election, coupled with his criticism of the Olympic development as an unequal move benefitting corporations more than society, had given the International Olympic Committee some cause for alarm.  Freixo had challenged the evictions and clearings that have marked the push to prepare Rio for not just 2016, but also the 2014 World Cup.

Paes, who has served as Rio’s mayor since 2008, however, was able to brag that he brought the 2016 Olympic Summer Games to the city — and can take credit for the widely acknowledged improvements in the city, especially as regards the ongoing ‘pacification’ of the once-notorious favela slums that dot the hillsides above the richer parts of Rio below — the ‘pacification’ campaign involves both the implementation of police control over a favela and wresting control, often by force, of each slum from drug gangs and criminal forces, but also the institution of better schools and other municipal services designed to keep the favelas firmly within the city’s control.  In addition, Paes is working to build four new superhighways in advance of 2016, has improved bus transit and has spearheaded an overhaul of the Porto Maravilha that served as the city’s main port during the Portuguese colonial era.

Despite the surprisingly widespread availability of Twitter in favelas, Paes’s coalition of 16 parties gave him access to 16 minutes of free daily public broadcast time during the campaign, giving him an advantage over Freixo’s 1 minute and 22 seconds, in addition to the other perks of incumbency and the benefits of having been associated with nabbing South America’s first Olympic Games.

The win will be a mild victory for the Workers’ Party as well — it is expected that Rousseff will likely run for reelection, although Lula will also be eligible to run (presidents are limited to just two consecutive terms, but are not limited as to two terms for life).  The Workers’ Party has been subdued by the constant drip of trial proceedings over a political corruption scandal from the early 2000s.

The Workers’ Party will be even more thrilled with the mayoral election in Brazil’s most populous city, São Paulo, where its candidate Fernando Haddad, a former federal minister of education, won 28.99% of the vote, narrowly trailing Serra, the candidate of the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party), who won 30.75%.  Celso Russomanno, a famous television consumer advocate in the 1990s and candidate of the small Partido Republicano Brasileiro (PRB, Brazilian Republican Party), had led polls for most of the race and was considered the frontrunner, but finished a disappointing third with just 21.60%.

Russomanno, with backing from the evangelist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, had shown success throughout the campaign in winning support in the traditional strongholds of the Workers’ Party.  Haddad, a former minister of education in Lula’s administration, was seen as a weak candidate imposed as the party’s standard-bearer by Lula himself.

 Haddad and Serra will now advance to a runoff vote to determine who will become São Paulo’s mayor, and a win for Haddad would be a huge triumph for the Workers’ Party.

Serra, who lost the Brazilian presidential election by a wide margin in 2002 to Lula and by a narrower margin in 2010 to Rousseff, served as minister of planning and minister of health during the administration of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who preceded Lula as president from 1994 to 2002.  More recently, Serra was elected as mayor of São Paulo for the first time in 2004, although he left the post early to contest the governorship of São Paulo state in 2006, which he subsequently won.  Serra had broken a pledge he made in the 2004 campaign to remain mayor through his whole term, however.

Continue reading Paes wins reelection in Rio in advance of 2016 Olympics; Serra leads mayoral race in São Paulo

Brazilian municipal elections to determine Rio mayor in advance of 2016 Olympics

Meanwhile, in Brazil, several cities will vote in mayoral elections.

Notably, Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro will select the mayor that will guide the city through the 2016 Summer Games.  Incumbent Eduardo Paes, who has been mayor since 2008, is facing a strong challenge from Marcelo Freixo.

I’ll have some additional thoughts later when we have results from that election as well.


No, but really: Can Henrique Capriles defeat Chavismo?

I asked that question — Can Henrique Capriles defeat Chavismo? — back in February.

Today, the Toque de Diana blared at 3 a.m. throughout the country, signaling that Venezuelans will go to the polls to decide whether to reelect Hugo Chávez (pictured above, top) for another term in office after 14 years or to elect Capriles (pictured above, below), the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state, to the presidency, but I think the answer is just as unclear right now, hours away from the close of polls, as it was in February.

There have been so many pieces out there this week that describe the state of the race, and an excellent blog that can give you more detailed analysis of the Venezuelan presidential race.  There’s no doubt that Capriles has run a very smart and energetic campaign, and that the race is essentially the first truly contested presidential election since Chávez took power.

But as we get word of results tonight, there are three sets of questions to keep in mind — first, about the election itself; second, about Venezuela if Capriles wins; and finally, about Venezuela if Chávez wins.

First, the election:

What to make of Venezuelan polling? Polls have been all over the place, some showing Chávez locked in a tight race and others showing him winning in a landslide.  Given that Venezuela’s democratic institutions are a standard deviation lower in quality than, say, Peru or other countries in South America, to say nothing as compared to the United States or the European Union, it’s safe to say that we can’t rely much on polls or exit polls to show us too many insights on the Venezuelan result.

How will we even know that the result is accurate? There are no international observers, and Chávez’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela) controls many of the levers of government.  If Chávez wins by just a small margin, there’s really no way to know whether the result will have been valid or whether.

As Lara state goes, so goes Venezuela?

If Chávez wins: Continue reading No, but really: Can Henrique Capriles defeat Chavismo?