Transitions

Capriles survives an opposition rout

On Sunday, Venezuela's voters went to the polls to elect state governors and legislators. Amid low turnout, the candidates affiliated with ailing President Hugo Chávez's PSUV party won 20 of 23 states (although the election in Bolívar state is still being contested).

For Venezuela's opposition, this result was a disaster. The opposition camp lost five of the eight governorships that it had previously held and failed to win any new ones. There were, however, a few silver linings for the anti-Chávez forces.

Just two months ago, Chávez defeated Governor Henrique Capriles in the presidential contest by 10 percentage points, beating him in all but two states, including Capriles' home state of Miranda. Coming off the heels of that defeat, some people even projected that the opposition could be completely shut out. Complicating the forecast even further was the fact that the president spent the week before the election fighting for his life in a Havana clinic. (He seems to be pulling through, for now.) The news of his renewed illness has galvanized his supporters.

If that was the expectation, then the opposition outperformed it. Not only did it win three states, it also posted gains in some larger, more important states than those that Capriles carried in October.

This comes as little consolation to the opposition camp, presumably, considering what they lost. Coming into these elections, there were eight governors on the opposition side (although three of them were elected on Chávez's coattails but joined the opposition later). Crucially, the opposition lost races in two key states: Zulia, the country's most populous, and Carabobo, the third most populous.

Yet the anti- Chávez forces can find some solace in the results. Most importantly, Capriles survived an onslaught of government advertising to beat Chávez's candidate, former Vice President Elías Jaua in the race in Miranda. This was, arguably, the most important race of the night, as a loss by Capriles would have put a stop to his claim to leadership of the opposition.

Capriles' win, together with the losses incurred by other political forces, means he is the clear front-runner to become the opposition candidate in case an election to replace Hugo Chávez has to be called. According to Venezuela's constitution, a new election has to be called within the following thirty days in the event of a president's death. Since Capriles has already campaigned across the country, he has the necessary name recognition to compete. His victory in Miranda also gives him the necessary political capital. The other two elected governors are Capriles allies with little name recognition outside their home states, and there have been no suggestions that they are looking to challenge him.

Moreover, even though the chavista forces proved they could win elections without Chávez (the president did not campaign for his other candidates), the low turnout is a warning sign. The roughly five million votes the PSUV candidates received are much lower than the 8.2 million Chávez got in October. They are also much lower than the 6.6 million votes Capriles picked up in October.

The stage seems set for the next phase, whatever it may be and whenever it may come. From what is known about the president's health, it is highly likely that Venezuelans will have to go to the polls to elect a new president in the next twelve months. With Sunday's results, Vice President Nicolás Maduro (the man Chávez has named as his successor) is the favorite to win.

But these latest elections have also clarified the picture for the opposition. It also has a candidate, one that is well known, tested, and battle-ready.

Capriles beat a former vice president in 2008 to win his first term as governor. Last Sunday, he defeated another of Chávez's former vice presidents. As he told the press after his win, he's "beaten two, and there may be another one coming down the road."

It's good that he seems eager for a fight. If he does end up going after Maduro, there will be a lot riding on his shoulders. After Sunday's bloodbath, he's the best that the opposition has got.

Photo by LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images

Transitions

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief , December 17, 2012

Jakub Wisniewski gives the background to Poland's remarkable economic success story.

In our latest case study published in conjunction with Princeton's Innovations for Successful Societies, Laura Bacon and Rushda Majeed tell the story of a remarkable Sicilian mayor who decided to take back his city from the Mafia.

In this week's column, Christian Caryl explains the lingering scandal behind the story of Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator. Caryl also reports on the reasons why the U.S. government has decided to withhold its assent to the new UN telecommunications treaty that the Americans accuse of infringing on the freedom of the Internet.

Mohamed El Dahshan reports on the internal Muslim Brotherhood politics that are fueling the current unrest in Egypt. 

Adam Baron analyzes the problems that plague Yemen on the way to a planned national political dialogue.

Corey Brettschneider argues that the U.S. government should actively condemn hate speech as well as protecting the freedom of the word.

Endy Bayuni explores the reasons behind the current surge in union activism in Indonesia -- including the surprising willingness of local governments to support wage hikes.

Juan Nagel mulls over the continuing speculation about a successor to cancer-plagued Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.  

And now for this week's recommended reads:

The Project on Middle East Political Science offers a video conversation on the new Egyptian constitution with expert Nathan Brown.

At Jadailyya.com, Linda Herrera, Magdy Alabady, and Adel Iskandar analyze the political role of Mohamed El-Baradei in Egypt's current political unrest.

Writing for the Jamestown Foundation, Wladimir van Wilgenburg explains why fighting between Kurdish groups and Arab rebels helps Bashar al-Assad.

The website of the pro-democracy group Girifna offers an update on the latest protests in Sudan.

Democracy Digest offers two useful takes on the situation in Venezuela amid renewed reports that President Hugo Chavez is again struggling with cancer. One post speculates on the fate of chavismo without Chavez. The second brings together commentary on the state of the opposition as speculation about the possibility of a post-Chavez Venezuela revs up again.

Anne Applebaum, writing in The Washington Post, posits that corruption is becoming the new galvanizing issue for activists around the world.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty offers a breakdown on a Swedish documentary that tracks corruption linked with Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan.

The Monkey Cage features a post in which an array of political scientists weigh in on the function of legislatures in authoritarian regimes:

A new report from the International Crisis Group explains why Muslim insurgents are gaining ground on the government of Thailand in the country's turbulent South.

A new U.N. report details illegal drug trends in Asia and the Pacific.

Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images