Venezuelan Parliamentary Elections: Set back for Chávez

The threat of counter revolution stronger!

In Venezuela on the 26th of September a new National Assembly (parliament) was elected for the next 5 years.

The National Assembly elections, which coincided with elections to the Latin American Parliament, took place in a deeply polarized political environment where there is little room for other alternatives aside from the Chavez Government and its supporters or the right wing Opposition coalition (Mesa de Unidad- MUD). The results represent a set back for Chávez and are a warning to the working class and the poor. For the first time, (excluding the referendum on constitutional amendments) in an election since Chávez was elected the opposition won votes nationally taking 51% of the vote compared to 49% for the PSUV and it’s allies.

SR/CWI in Venezuela has consistently defended the positive reforms of the Chávez regime and at the same time argued for the need to defeat capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist planning of the economy. We have also opposed the corrupt, bureaucratic top down methods used by the regime. In this election we argued for the need to defeat the pro-capitalist reactionary right-wing opposition alliance and urged support for those PSUV candidates which were not corrupt and prepared to defend workers interests.

During the election campaign both the pro-socialist left wing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), party of Chavez and the Government, and MUD used populism and manipulation to try and win support. The changed electoral process was also an important feature of the campaign and reflected the bureaucratic methods used by the regime. The MUD opposition launched a political ‘anti-communist’ offensive and opportunistically capitalised on the weaknesses of the Government. Meanwhile the PSUV stretched their forces to try and recuperate the lost confidence of many sectors of society. This loss of confidence has been a product of the Governments economic and political policies in the last two years.

The Chavez Government has also been weakened as a result of extreme bureaucratisation and corruption in public institutions. Both these factors gave the hypocritical and opportunistic MUD the opportunity to make significant and important advances in this election. The SR/CWI has warned of this threat to the struggle in Venezuela during recent years unlike some other forces, (see ‘Revolutionary Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution’ 21/6/10 commenting on the International Marxist Tendency and oterhs) who have attempted to “prettify” the character of the processes in Venezuela and brushed over weakness in the Bolivarian movement.

In the recent election 17.5 million people were able to vote in Venezuela and the projected participation rate was between 55-65%. The PSUV aspired to maintain their two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. This would allow them to pass any legislation or constitutional changes they wanted to without the need to negotiate with the opposition. They would have required 110 of the 165 seats to achieve this. The object of the Opposition was the opposite- to win a minimum of 56 seats, which would allow them to break the qualifying majority of the PSUV and therefore force the Government to negotiate legislation.

Of the 165 members elected, including 3 indigenous members, 98 were elected from the PSUV-PCV electoral alliance (1 from the PCV), and 65 were elected from the Opposition MUD alliance plus 2 from the PPT. Of the 24 States, the PSUV won in 18 and MUD in 6. In the Latin American Parliament the PSUV won 7 seats, MUD 5 and 1 seat reserved for the indigenous member.

The Patria Para Todos (PPT), left the Chavez/ PSUV electoral alliance in a right-wing split with the slogan ‘Neither Chavista or Opposition’. They stood candidates all over the country in alliance with various small social movements, parties and individuals. The Unidad Socialista de Izqueirda (Socialist Left Unity- USI), which claims to be Trotskist and whose main leader is Trade Unionist Orlando Chirino was one of the PPT alliances.

Background to the Election

The current National Assembly had been elected in 2005 without the Opposition participating in the election stating that they did not have the ‘conditions’ to do so. This helped to shape the Bolivarian forces inside the National Assembly. The PCV (Communist Party of Venezuela), Podemos (Social Democrats) and the PPT in alliance with the MVR (today the PSUV) held complete control of the Assembly making up 147 of the 165 members. Following splits and individuals leaving the PSUV alliance however, 18 of these seats went over to the ‘opposition’. The 2005 elections had a high abstention rate with only 25% of the population participating compared to 66% in this election.

During 2006-9 there have been 4 other electoral processes. In 2006 the presidential elections saw Chavez re-elected with 7.2 million votes. In 2007 the Constitutional Reform referendum, took place with the newly created PSUV. This was the first electoral defeat of Chavez and initiated a slight fall in the popularity of the Government and signalled the first recuperation of the Opposition forces. In 2008 there were regional elections and in 2009 the referendum of the Constitutional Amendment, both of which were won by Chavez by a very small margin. The 2008 election saw the Government recuperate some of their votes with 6.3 million while the opposition increased their votes to win 5.1 million.

In these parliamentary elections the PSUV won 49% of the national vote- 5.2 million votes. The opposition alliance, MUD, won 51% of the vote representing 5.4 million votes. While these important figures represent a reflection of the political situation today in Venezuela they are not the entire story and the process is not fully exhausted or a victory of the right-wing secured.

The PSUV consolidated themselves as the leading political party in the country however this won’t be enough for them to advance their reformist politics and achieve ‘socialism’ via the parliament. At the same time the support received for MUD from the middle class and upper middle class and some small sectors of the working class and poor is not solid. Rather it represented a vote to punish and protest the against the Governments policies. MUD itself is also an unstable alliance of several right-wing parties which can fragment and split. However, this election represents a threat and illustrates the process of disappointment and disillusionment which is developing. This makes the need for the adoption of genuine socialist policies and measures even more urgent to prevent the right-wing strengthening its position further.

PSUV election campaign meeting

Electoral reform

The right-wing would have emerged even stronger in the National Assembly but for a change in the election system. The recent National Assembly elections were the first under the new electoral system, which was changed as a result of the reform of the Electoral Processes Law, passed in 2009. This law, amongst other things modified the electoral districts in 8 states. Of those 8 states, 5 are part of the 9 states in the country with the greatest population of voters. Under the changes each of the 24 states has a determined number of members elected, distributed over 87 electoral districts. Proportional representation was changed by the changes, leaving smaller minority parties or individuals vulnerable and effectively weighing the electoral system towards the rural areas where Chávez has a higher degree of support.

The 9 States with the highest concentration inhabitants include the largest urban areas represents 67% (11.2 million people) of the national total. These states however only elect between them 87 members of the Assembly which is 53% of the total of National Assembly members. Five of these states were held by the Opposition, who won the seats in the regional elections of November 2008.

The other 15 States represent 37% of the voting population (5.8 million people) in the mainly rural areas. However under the law reform this was changed to give these states 47% representation which is 78 members in the National Assembly.

The 2009 electoral law reform modified the composition of the electoral districts and increased the number of seats in less populated areas. This meant that the rural states elect 47% of the National Assembly compared to 53% in the urban areas. The Opposition won 68 seats in 35 of the more populated zones. The other 22 were won in the rural or less populated areas. Meanwhile, of the 98 PSUV members of the National Assembly elected, 21 were from urban zones and 77 from the rural zones.

The hypocrisy of the right

The right wing have mounted an international and national campaign saying that they obtained the majority of the ‘popular vote’ and were denied a corresponding of seats in the National Assembly. This is hypocrisy by the right-wing. They forget to explain that changes to the electoral system are nothing new in Venezuela. Historically the electoral system has always been changed by whoever controlled the State. It was similar in the past during the 40 years of hegemony between Accion Democratica (AD) and the Christian Democrats (COPEI).

It is the same AD, once the leading political force in the country but depleted significantly during 2000- 2006, which obtained the highest votes in the election of the MUD electoral alliance winning 23 members in the Assembly consolidating themselves as the strongest opposition party.

After September 26

The electoral results confirm our analysis of the last four years; that a socialist revolution can’t be achieved with social reforms and policies made within the capitalist system. The politics of ‘Chavismo’, which “fights for 21st Century Socialism” without undertaking a fundamental transformation of society doesn’t only fail to overthrow capitalism but is partly responsible for the failure of revolutionary movements of the poor and working class in Venezuela.

SR defends positive reforms which benefit the masses but they cannot be maintained under capitalism. To defend them and introduce further measures to transform the lives of the masses it is necessary to break with capitalism. Without real democratic workers’ and community control of the process then as we have seen the bureaucratisation and corruption has grown stronger and stronger and allowed the counter-revolutionary forces to re-group and reorganise.

Nevertheless not everything is lost, the world capitalist crisis is evidence that capitalism is not capable of resolving its own inherent crisis’ and that it is incapable of meeting the basic needs of the majority. In this crisis it has been the workers that have paid. The global crisis has no only opened up a new stage in neo liberal attacks on the working class but has generated mass opposition to governmental policies and reforms and new mass movements of the working class in many countries.

In Venezuela we see that despite a left popular radical Government of Hugo Chávez its reforms have not been enough to prevent the effects of the world capitalist crisis from being felt or to break with the capitalist system. However there is a high level of consciousness that we can’t return to the politics of the past and allow the Opposition to return to power.

Chavismo vs. Opposition

The political forces of Chavismo and the Opposition in the National Assembly represent important challenges that will define in one way or another the future of the Bolivarian process. Chavismo has an advantage in that it is one party and also has one leader- Chavez to unify its internal tensions. Although obviously there are no guarantees and future splits and ruptures are possible.

The PSUV also needs to look at rebuilding its falling popularity of the last 2 years. The popular measures such as the ‘living well’ card will not be enough. This card offers, via an agreement with China, low priced electrical goods to be bought by the poor with credit. There are high levels of doubt and pessimism regarding the Governments handling of the economy and the recession. It’s not certain they can gain or maintain their current level of support through continuing social reforms rather then structural system forms. The accumulation of debts by the poor through this credit system will not offer a lasting solution to their problems and will only create deeper problems in the future.

Equally MUD has a difficult task. As a coalition many of the parties have their own agenda. To maintain their unity in order to face the Government in the National Assembly will be a challenge. Also their absence of a unified leader to challenge Chavez will make it difficult for them- especially in the lead up to the 2012 presidential elections. As mentioned earlier the bases of the opposition are not solid, many of their electoral promises were as equally populist as the PSUV’s and when they don’t deliver on their promises the middle class and bourgeois could easily withdraw there support thereby weakening their forces.

MUD’s ability to capitalise on the weaknesses of the Government has been their strength. However both political forces will be unstable with the conscious organization of the working class under our own independent political party to construct revolutionary and democratic socialism.

The current situation in Venezuela will open up a new period of political confrontation in which the working class can overcome it’ weaknesses and the polarization that has lead to some of the revolutionary left taking ultra left or opportunist positions. This could catapult a powerful revolutionary movement led by workers that can break the polarization that exists and create a real socialist revolutionary and democratic way forward.

The perspectives in Venezuela are open although every day revolutionary forces are threatened. The failure of the Bolivarian Revolution will be also the failure of the revolutionary movements that today in many parts of the world are re-emerging. We call on all honest revolutionary socialist democratic forces to come forward and joint the struggle for a real democratic socialist programme to take the masses forward and defeat the threat of counter revolution.

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October 2010