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Opposition Considers Options After Chavez Wins Reelection

Although it had done comparatively well, the Venezuelan opposition absorbs the consequences of Chavez' victory.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 10/10/2012, 2:41 AM

Captured the flag
Captured the flag
Reuters

Opponents of newly reelected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are chewing over their defeat and the prospects of 6 more years of Chavismo.

They lost by 10%, despite succeeding in unifying their forces, running a savvy campaign and, above all, fielding a charismatic candidate in the person of Henrique Capriles. For some, this marks the end of the struggle and they contemplate emigration as a solution.

Others, including Capriles himself, take a more optimistic view. The defeated candidate notes that he is 40 years old and is not going anywhere. Many Latin American leaders, including Chavez himself, failed in their first attempt and even subsequent attempts to take power, although in the case of Chavez his first attempt was via an abortive military coup.

The opposition substantially cut into Chavez victory margin from 2006. A case could be made that time was on its side.

Two additional clouds hover over Chavez' victory – health and economics.

The speculation about whether Chavez' cancer would even allow him to complete the race probably backfired against the opposition. Although Chavez had to cut back on campaign appearances in contrast to 2006, the fact that his hair grew back during the campaign and he was still able to conduct a vigorous campaign added to his mystique as a person who could even vanquish the Angel of death.

The extent of Hugo Chavez' recovery remains an uncertainty and should he be incapacitated, his successor will not command the same loyalty and personality cult as el commandante. If Chavez is forced to leave office during the first 4 years of his new term, the result will be new elections; in the latter two years, the vice president succeeds to fill out the term.

The government electoral machine was greased by a spending binge fueled by heavy borrowing. Additionally the government made extravagant pledges. To combat the inflation that such policies usher in, the government employed price controls. Price controls are generally a stopgap, ultimately leading to shortages because sellers are not going to sell items at a loss.

Given the country's mammoth oil reserves, global oil prices will be a key factor in Venezuela's ability to conduct Chavez' so-called Bolivarian Revolution at home and abroad.

The comparative success of the opposition can play out in two opposite ways. The optimistic scenario would have Chavez take a more conciliatory approach.  But one cannot rule out a more pessimistic scenario. As long as the opposition was hated and considered a joke, Chavez could maintain a veneer of democracy. Should the opposition now be considered a serious threat, this could lead to increased repression and a more accelerated timetable for consolidating "socialism" in Venezuela.