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Ruling Venezuelan Party Faces Life Without El Commandante

The grave condition of Hugo Chavez poses a challenge to regime he built.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/14/2012, 3:12 AM

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro
Reuters

After winning Venezuela's recent presidential election and having assured the voters that he had beaten cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is facing at best "a complex and hard" recuperative process following a six hour operation in Cuba.

This was the prognosis of his second-in-command and designated successor Nicolas Maduro, who warned his countrymen of hard times ahead. The government-controlled television showed Venezuelans praying for the health of their president. Hugo Chavez may not even make it to his own inauguration.

The Venezuelan Constitution is clear on this subject: If the president is incapacitated during the first 4 years of his term, the country goes to new elections. The American State Department expressed its confidence that Venezuela would honor its constitution.

But first there will be the regional elections next week and having triumphed on Chavez' miraculous "recovery", the president's  PSUV party will now seek to capitalize on a sympathy vote for the stricken strongman.

Their prime target is the governor of Miranda and Chavez' opponent in the recent election Henrique Capriles Rodanski. Capriles opponent is former vice president Elias Jaua, a Venezuelan of Arab extraction who was handpicked by Chavez. The Chavistas hope to knock off Capriles who was able to unify the opposition in the last elections. If Capriles fails to win convincingly or loses, he will find it hard to maintain his control of a frequently fractious opposition.

The greater threat to Hugo Chavez'  Bolivarian Revolution may however come from within. The supreme test of a revolutionary party is the ability to effect a stable political succession from a charismatic leader to a more mundane leader.  This means that the movement is more durable than its founder.

Chavez managed to hold together a movement that ranged from the so-called Bolivarchs --the businessmen who made fortunes on the regime's crony capitalism or crony socialism and revolutionary true believers. Factor in also the military and it is not certain that the second-in-command Maduro, a former bus driver and union boss, can succeed el commandante