The results of the Venezuelan parliamentary elections have been met with almost unanimous negative responses in the Western press. Typical of the headlines was one in the Irish Times on the 28th of September: “Opposition gains loosen Chavez’s grip on power“. While this is technically correct it’s far from the full picture. As the last parliamentary elections were boycotted by the opposition the PSUV (the party that the president draws his support from) would have been expected to lose seats in these elections. So any losses must be judged against this background. In fact the PSUV ended up with more seats than in the previous “contested” elections. In addition, the forty million dollars given to the opposition, mainly by the US, was not mentioned in the Irish Times article but obviously would have had some bearing on the election result.
None of the articles have commented on the success of the election process itself, such as the big turnout (over 60%), and the smoothness of the operation. The fact that the opposition took part and will now be involved in the democratic process should be seen as a plus. Hopefully this is a sign that the right has now accepted that democracy is here to stay in Venezuela. Having tried the military option twice, (with the coup and the sabotage of the oil industry), the return to a parliamentary path is welcome and may help end the polarisation of society which was exacerbated by their boycott of the previous elections.
In Latin America the right have always been loath to accept the democratic process when the results have not favoured them, and have been quick to use the military option to counter any perceived threat to the status quo. Recent events in Honduras and Ecuador are examples but in the past there have been disastrous military interventions in Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, to name a few. The common denominator in all of these actions has been the invisible hand of the US, and the tens of thousands of innocent people who died because of these policies remains a worrying reminder of what can happen.
In Honduras, the parliamentary elections in November 2009 were boycotted by the UN, OAS, and the Carter Center. Amnesty International denounced the level of intimidation before and during these elections but none of the western media made any reference to these facts. The results of this election are still not accepted by the majority of Latin American countries. Hilary Clinton’s embarrassing and unsuccessful attempts to browbeat the (OAS) Organisation of American States into legitimising the new regime in Honduras has also largely gone unreported in the US and European press. Since the coup against the democratically elected President Zelaya in 2009 there has been huge oppression against members of the opposition, community leaders, trade unionists, journalists and particularly members of the gay community. The bodies are piling up and Honduras looks like joining Colombia as a major human rights abuser.
In Ecuador it seems that “People Power” may have saved the day for democracy and restored President Correa. A right-wing element aligned to a former president seem to be emerging as the culprit. Again, the opposition in Ecuador receives massive monetary support from the US.
Meanwhile none of the media in this part of the world has seen fit to publish the fact that in Haiti, Fanmi Lavalas, the popular party of the poor, which won every election in which it was allowed to participate, has been barred from the upcoming elections by Haiti’s provisional elections council. This is the party of the illegally deposed President Aristide and this action excludes the majority of Haitian the people from the electoral process.
Meanwhile in a series of articles about Brazil in the Irish Times, their correspondent Tom Hennigan states that Brazil hopes to attain the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing infant mortality by 75 percent three years ahead of schedule. He also mentions that Brazil predicts that it will eliminate extreme poverty by 2016. Maybe instead of spoiling the article by a few snide asides at Venezuela he might have been better off checking some of Venezuela’s achievements in these areas.
Since Chavez took office a decade ago, access to primary health care in Venezuela has increased more than fourfold to nearly 100%, illiteracy has been nearly eradicated, and infant mortality has decreased by more than half. The President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Ali Abdessalam Treki, on a visit to Venezuela in June this year, heaped praise on the government for the progress it has made in reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals. Speaking about the report he received from the Venezuelan National Institute for Statistics regarding the progress the country has made on the goals, Treki said:
“What Venezuela has achieved with regards to the Millennium Development Goals should serve as a model for all other countries.”
Hennigan’s use of terms like “Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez” and “regimes such as those in Caracas, Havana and Teheran” is a good pointer to his prejudices. They are also another chapter in his paper’s demonising of Venezuela and also a gratuitous insult to the Venezuelan electorate, who have turned out in very large numbers to vote in fourteen different polls in the last eleven years.
Adrian Kane was part of the international observer team at the elections. Adrian is a Sector Organiser of the Insurance Finance Print and Media sector of SIPTU. He is also a member of the Executive of The Labour Party, former member of Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council. The following is a report on some of his experiences.
Reflections on the Venezuelan National Assembly Elections 26th September
Perhaps it is because Chavismo has dominated for so long in Venezuela that the PSUV’s (The United Socialist Party of Venezuela) winning of only 98 of the 165 seats in the national assembly elections was greeted with a muted and somewhat puzzled response by party members as they gathered in their campaign HQ, the Hotel ALBA in Central Caracas, on the evening of the national assembly elections.
The question on the lips of party members, commentators and the public alike was what did this result signify?
Before attempting to answer that question let us first establish the facts. The PSUV won approx 50% of the vote, but due to the nature of the electoral system this translated into 98 seats. The opposition MUD (Democratic Unity Coalition) won approx 48% of the popular vote and took 62 seats. A small non-aligned leftwing party, the PPT, won 2 seats. The electoral system is a dual system; 110 deputies are directly elected from constituencies and a further 52 deputies from a list system and finally 3 seats are reserved for indigenous communities. There are some 23 different constituencies (comprised of states and the capital districts) and the discrepancy in relation to the percentage vote won and the number of seats allocated is explained in the manner in which the ‘list seats’ are distributed between the constituencies. Each constituency is allocated either 2 or 3 list seats according to size of population. This leads to more densely populated constituencies claiming that they are under-represented.
Such is the polarization within Venezuelan society that indigenous media sources are not a sound starting board to begin an objective debate on what was the meaning of the result. Some of the more objective international websites such as venezuelanananlysis.com are calling the result a technical draw. The percentage of the vote cast for the PSUV was well down on the presidential election in 2006, when Chavez won almost 2/3rds of the popular vote. However, winning 50% of all votes cast during one of the world’s worst recessions and after 12 years in power can only be described as a remarkable achievement for the incumbent Government.
It must also be remembered that the opposition was a coalition of strange bedfellows comprised of over 80 parties from every part of the political spectrum. That the opposition have made in-roads, however, cannot be denied, but the fact that they will now be taking up their seats after boycotting the previous national assembly elections has to be seen in a positive light. It will oblige the opposition to engage in a political dialogue that here-to-fore has been sloganistic, hysterical and at times violent. Venezuela is badly served by the partisan nature of its media. It is on an altogether different scale to the largely rightwing nature of the written press in Ireland. Large tracts of the population seem unsure as to what to believe. The development of an ‘objective’ press rather than better propaganda from the Government side would make for a more stable Venezuela.
One cannot but be inspired by the passion of Venezuelan elections. All the senses are engaged; you are roused from your slumbers from 4 in the morning by the Chavistas traversing Caracas in pick-up trucks sounding the cavalry charge from booming sound systems. Election-day is a blaze of red; people queuing for hours outside polling stations as enticing smells from street vendors’ stalls tempt the stomachs of the weary electors under an intense tropical sun.
On a more general note Venezuela continues to make significant progress across a whole range of social services, particularly in Health and Education. Indigenous manufacturing has also been renewed; I had the privilege of travelling on a fantastic free new cable-car system which now transports the barrio dwellers of one part of Caracas to and from the city centre. Some of the barrios have been replaced with good housing but the Government will have to re-double its efforts to truly transform people’s living conditions.
On a final note, the Venezuelan electoral system is a wonder. It is incredibly efficient; it is transparent and has the faith of the vast majority of the electorate. We in Ireland have wasted vast sums of money in investing in an electronic system that was not adopted because it did not have a paper trail. The electronic system in Venezuelan has a paper verification system which ensures that the system is beyond corruption. Some on the left have seen the recent result as a set-back for Chavismo; nothing could be further from the truth. The real winners in this election have been the Venezuelan people. The electorate have become empowered; the speed of the revolution and the nature of reform will be decided from below. Socialism in Venezuela is not dogmatic, it is not doctrinaire; it does not purport to have all the answers, it is evolving and perhaps this is what 21st century socialism is all about.
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