Chávez’s death kicks off sudden presidential election in Venezuela


Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has died today at age 58 after a long battle with cancer, and that sets off a snap 30-day campaign to select his successor. Venezuela Flag Icon

Putting aside politics and policy for a moment, it is clear that Chávez commanded a huge amount of support among the 29 million residents of Venezuela.  Though many critics, both within Venezuela and outside the country, especially in the United States, found his style of populist ‘bolivarian’ socialist government offensive, his largest legacy may well be addressing poverty in Venezuela after decades of leaders ignored Venezuela’s poorest– and even lift many Venezuelans out of poverty with massive amounts of social welfare spending on health, education and other support through his misiones, though we’ll leave for another day the question of whether that spending, based largely on Venezuelan natural resources and high global demand for oil, is sustainable in the long run.

It’s a testament to Chávez’s influence that Henrique Capriles, his opponent in the October 2012 presidential election, campaigned on a basis of retaining many of the misiones.  Although Chávez won reelection with nine-point victory over Capriles, the opposition made clear to Venezuelans that, to some degree, ‘we’re all chavistas, now.’ (follow all of Suffragio‘s coverage here).

His legacy will also be one of a troubling, divisive, oppressive autocrat — an erratic style of rule that diminished press freedom and blurred the line between the military, the government and politics.  Although elections remained free in Venezuela under Chávez, his mobilization of government to support his political survival meant that elections weren’t necessarily fair.  He also championed an anti-imperialist style that antagonized the United States and other Western governments (he famously called former U.S. president George W. Bush ‘Mister Danger‘ and a donkey), seeking instead common cause with countries like Iran and other rogue states.

But Chávez’s health — which was always an issue, however muted, during the campaign — took a turn for the worse after his reelection.  He departed for Cuba very soon after the election for cancer treatment, missing his own re-inauguration, and really since the day he was reelected, Venezuela’s been trapped in a bit of political paralysis with a president on what turned out to be his deathbed.

Upon reelection, Chávez was scheduled to have remained in office through January 2019; now that he’s died in office, Venezuela faces a snap election to be held within 30 days.

That’s right — Chávez’s successor will be chosen by April 5.

Before leaving for treatment in Cuba, Chávez appointed a new vice president, former foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, and anointed him specifically as his successor.  That means Maduro is likely to lead Chávez’s ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela) into the snap election, though it’s possible that Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of the National Assembly, could attempt to win the presidential nomination.  Given the outpouring of sympathy for Chávez, though, and the suddenness of the election, that seems unlikely.

I’ll note that Cabello himself is far from Caracas today, dealing with the death of his own mother, Felicia de Cabello, which makes the timing of Chávez’s own death perhaps suspicious.

Though Cabello may command more support within the PSUV ranks, Cuba’s leadership is thought to back Maduro, and that’s likely to be a hugely determinative factor in the days to come — one of the key questions is the role that the Cuban government of Raúl Castro has played in Venezuela’s governance in the past couple of months while Chávez has been incapacitated.

His recent opponent, Capriles, was narrowly reelected as the governor of Miranda, Venezuela’s second-most populous state, in the state elections in December 2012, and so the dynamics of the snap elections, held so closely after the previous presidential election, means that Capriles, the highest-ranking official from within the broad opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), will likely be its candidate — and we’ll be asking once again whether Capriles defeat chavismo, this time without Chávez.  Again, the governor of Lara state, Henri Falcón, himself a former chavista, might also emerge as a potential challenger, though with such a short presidential campaign, Capriles has more national name recognition and the ability to mobilize a rapid campaign team, and the opposition will surely see this as their best opportunity to take power in the past 13 years.

I’m not sure what the next 30 days will bring.

We could see infighting over the nomination from both the PSUV or the MUD or we could see very rapid alignment in light of the election ahead.

We could see Venezuelans turn away from the chavistas without their charismatic leader, with Venezuela’s economy sputtering and with the most credible opposition in years providing a compelling alternative government.  We could also see a wave of sympathy for the long-ailing Chávez sweep his chosen successor Maduro into power.

Although for now the military has vowed loyalty to Maduro, meaning that there’s no imminent threat of a coup, will the military, now fully integrated into Chávez’s political empire, even allow a fully free and fair election in 30 days that could result in the election of an opposition candidate?  We just don’t know.

For now, it’s enough to note Chávez’s passing, note his complicated legacy to Venezuela and to the world, and hope for the most peaceful and seamless transition possible for the people of Venezuela.

What we know so far about the Kenyan election results

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It’s been over 24 hours since polls closed in Kenya’s general election, and vote counting has progressed very slowly — at this point, with midnight approaching in Nairobi, the chief elections commission has announced that because of counting delays, a preliminary announcement will not be made until tomorrowkenya

What do we know so far?

We don’t know who will be the next president of Kenya, unfortunately, because we don’t have enough results yet — just 13,559 districts out of 31,982 have been counted, and that’s just under 42% of all districts, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Uhuru Kenyatta, former finance minister and the candidate of the Kikuyu-strong Jubilee alliance, currently leads the provisional result with 53%, with prime minister Raila Odinga, the runner-up of the controversial 2007 presidential election and the candidate of the Luo-strong Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) alliance winning 42%.  The margin for Kenyatta has gone done significantly over the past few hours, though, and there’s a general understanding that the results do not include as many of Odinga’s strongholds in the west and along the coast.

Musalia Mudavadi, deputy prime minister and the candidate of the candidate of the Amani coalition, which includes many supporters from the Luhya people and the once-dominant Kenya African National Union (KANU), was far behind in third place with just 3%.

One troubling issue is the high number of rejected votes — running at 330,000, that’s more than half the votes that Mudavadi is currently winning and about 7% of the vote.  That could mean up to half a million voters or more when the final results are in — perhaps even the margin of victory — will be rejected.  As a winning presidential candidate must take a 50% absolute majority, that means that Kenyatta or Odinga will need to win closer to 53% of the non-rejected ballots in order to avoid a runoff.

CORD leaders, such as vice presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka, cautioned that the results are incomplete and that Kenyatta’s lead is not a reliable gauge of where the race stands:

“It is important that we await the outcome of the remaining two thirds of the polling stations in order to make any conclusion about the results of this election,” Kalonzo said.

While urging for calm, the VP said in any case, results from Cord strongholds were yet to trickle in adding that results from their stronghold stood at about 10 percent while those of Jubilee were average of 40 percent.

Kalonzo taunted the Jubilee rivals for what he termed as premature celebrations while exuding confidence that their coalition will pull a comeback and stage their rivals lead once results from their strongholds are recorded.

Peter Kenneth, who was leading the Eagle coalition, has conceded defeat having received just 1% of the vote, but cautioned that the independent numbers being reports do not currently match what the IEBC is reporting:

Kenneth urged the electoral body to clear presidential results saying results they were getting from their field agents were different from what IEBC has.

“The country cannot get out of anxiety mood we are heading to.  We are getting real time results that differ with IEBC”, said Kenneth.

Due to the fact that there are high regional differences, however, it seems likely that the IEBC’s numbers will ultimately tighten, which would be consistent with pre-election polls and any divergent alternative tallies.

Currently, Odinga leads in 26 counties and Kenyatta leads in 21 counties. (I don’t know what that means for parliamentary results, necessarily, even though results for both the National Assembly and the newly formed Senate are coming in as well).

What else do the results tell us?

Continue reading What we know so far about the Kenyan election results

First Past the Post: March 5

Sukhumbhand Paribatra

East and South Asia

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao kicks off the National People’s Congress with an address and an official goal of 7.5% growth.

Malaysia strikes in Borneo — one of the most bizarre relationships in international affairs.

Incumbent Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra (pictured above) of the Democrat Party won reelection on Sunday.

Haruhiko Kuroda begins confirmation hearings in Japan’s Diet to become the next Bank of Japan governor.

Another minister designee of South Korean president Park Guen-hye steps aside.

North America

A tough spell for Alberta premier Alison Redford — the populist Wildrose is once again leading polls.

The New Democrats seem set to win the British Columbia provincial elections in May.

Canadian MP Marc Garneau challenged Justin Trudeau for running a campaign without substance at a Liberal Party leadership debate on Sunday.

Latin America / Caribbean

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has a new respiratory condition — not a good trajectory for the cancer-stricken leader.

Francisco Toro and Juan Cristobal Nagel have compiled the best of the past decade of posts at their always-thoughtful Caracas Chronicles into a book.

Brazil’s economy grew by just 0.9% in 2012. [Portuguese]

Puerto Rican governor Alejandro García Padilla wants to boost the economy through energy and tourism.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Uhuru Kenyatta leads in the early Kenyan presidential results, but it’s still too early to know much of anything as of 1 a.m. EST (yes, the counting is very slow).

Full interactive results from Kenya’s IEBC here.

Forget ethnicity — Kenya has two tribes, rich and poor.

Some honest mocking of lazy Western media tropes on Kenya.

Djibouti’s opposition gets a warning from the government.

Keep an eye on western Kenya’s result, in particular.

Some kudos to outgoing Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki for remaining relatively above the fray in the current election.

Defeated Ghanaian presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo gets his day at the supreme court on March 14.

Nigeria is set to eclipse South Africa as the continent’s largest economy.


More than two-thirds of Swiss voters have approved curbs on executive compensation in a referendum.

Rumbles that the current governor of the Bank of Italy, Ignazio Visco, may lead a technocratic government.  I think that’s unlikely, but there it is.

Beppe Grillo’s army of newly-elected Five Star Movement deputies comes to Rome.

Germany will veto extending the Schengen free-border zone to Romania and Bulgaria later this week.

Labour still leads the Nationalist Party in advance of Maltese elections on March 9.

Former Polish president Lech Walesa is in trouble for making anti-gay remarks.

Charlemagne at The Economist checks in on Golden Dawn, Greece’s neo-nazi party.

Denmark’s conservatives would improve their poll standing if Lars Barfoed were to step down as leader.

Czech president Václav Klaus will face treason charges from the Czech senate in his final days in office over a pardon scandal.

Russia and Former Soviet Union

Fredrik M Sjoberg, writing at The Monkey Cage, argues why there might be something to claims of electoral fraud in Armenia by presidential loser Raffi Hovannisian.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych are meeting to discuss natural gas and customs unions.

Middle East and North Africa

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington by satellite Monday.

It looks like Netanyahu will cave on including the haredim in his next government coalition.

More on Tunisia.

Tough interview with former UK prime minister Tony Blair on Iraq, a decade later (see below).