Venezuela: Municipal elections 2013

Abstention and polarisation reflect reality of current conjuncture

In a campaign marked by little political content and near absence of political demands the result of the municipal elections on 8 December show, once again, the high levels of political polarization that exist in Venezuela. For the 58.9% of Venezuelans that voted for either Chavismo or the right wing coalition, MUD, the vote – essentially mirroring that of the April 14 Presidential elections – was almost divided in two.

A massive 335 councils and mayors were elected. At the time of writing the national vote for PSUV was 44% and that of the MUD at 40%, with a difference of a little more than 330,000 votes. If the votes for allies are included for both sectors, the difference increased slightly to just over 5% in favour of Chavismo. The unfortunate reality is that this election reflects, once more an increase of votes for the right wing. When compared with the last elections in 2008 they increased their votes by 600,000.

The polarization was also evident in and between many of the important emblematic mayoral seats. In Caracas, referred to by both parties as the jewel in the crown, there are two mayoral seats: one for the area in the west the ’Libertador’ and the east the ’Metropolitano’.

In the Libertador the standing PSUV mayor was re-elected with 54% of the votes and in the Metropolitano the MUD mayor was also re-elected with 50.1% of the vote. The PSUV have claimed that this shows the ’class divisions’ in Caracas as the Metropolitano includes middle and upper middle class areas as well as many bourgeois neighbourhoods. While this is true to a certain extent, the barrios of the Libertador are the traditional heartland of Chavism, the areas of the Metropolitano also include one of the largest and poorest barrios in Latin America, Petare.

The elections had a significant abstention rate of 41.8% representing over 8 million people. 13.2% of votes went to either independents or other parties. This included around 5%, which went to the aligned parties- such as those within the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) that supports the government. The abstention rate and votes for others demonstrates the high levels of discontent or apathy that voters feel both toward the PSUV and MUD and their incapacity to respond to the day-to-day problems affecting the population.

Campaigns without Political Content

Unfortunately the last campaigns of the PSUV have been marked by their poor political content. Maduro’s presidential election campaign in April failed to put forward a new program, proposal or policy to debate or discuss, much less a proposal of how to change the system, support workers and the communities in struggle and organise. Instead it relied on the memory of Chavez and his October election slogan "Chavez: heart of the people" as to some degree understandably, the PSUV struggled to find their feet after his death.

The elections slogans however in these elections followed in the same way. In the Libertador the slogan of Jorge Rodriguez for the PSUV was ’I love you Caracas: Jorge Rodriguez’ and all the PSUV candidates used the ‘new Homeland Plan’ as their main policy. This Plan, approved in the National Assembly last week to as a new law, was Chavez’s electoral program during his October presidential campaign.

Furthermore, although denied by the PSUV as having anything to do with the elections, the 8 December was named some weeks ago as the ’Day of Loyalty and Love for Chavez’. The date coincides with Chavez’s last address to the nation in 2012 where he named Maduro as his successor and left, the next day, to Cuba for treatment.

It would be incorrect, however, to say that the PSUV won these elections on the basis of these emotional campaign slogans and would also be insulting to the base of Chavism. It is important to recognise that away from the political faults of Chavism, the ‘Bolivarian’ process and its subsequent politicisation of the masses has lead to an important change in consciousness. The majority know that the right wing, no matter how they change their spots, do not and will not represent the interests of the working class and the poor and that they have more chance of change with Chavism then without it.

In some emblematic areas, the PSUV lost, not just because of the weaknesses of their campaign, but also because they put forward candidates that were not supported by their own members in those communities. In Barinas for example, the state where Chavez was born, the PSUV headed by Chavez’s own brother who is also State Governor, decided not to allow the then PSUV mayor to re-stand and forced a different candidate on the community. This was despite the fact that the Abundio Sanchez, the PSUV mayor, was popular and had much support from the community. The PSUV lost this seat in what could been seen as a punishment vote from supporters.

They were also widely criticised for choosing celebrities to stand in key areas over the preferences of the community. In these cases, of the 4 celebrities they stood only 1, a former major league baseball player, was elected.

The right wing is and was of course incapable of putting forward concrete proposals. Including in areas where they already held power such as in Maracaibo, where they have been completely incapable of organising even rubbish collection let alone the community. The MUD did not achieve any type of united program to put forward and completely avoided comment on how they were planning to work under the recently introduced Homeland Plan laws and in the context of a recently approved 12 month Enabling Law whereby Maduro can introduce new laws by decree.

A Plebiscite?

Although these elections were obviously not Presidential elections, that is to say not elections where Maduro was a candidate, they have been touted by the right wing as a plebiscite on his legitimacy. These were the first elections to take place since he narrowly won the Presidential elections in April this year by less than 200,000 votes. The April election results came as a shock to both the Government, who had taken for granted a transfer of votes from Chavez to Maduro and the right wing who just days before the election said they would win.

Amid Maduro stating that he would accept a full re-count of votes on election night and then the next day saying he would not and the right wing denouncing fraud, Maduro’s presidency generated questions about its legitimacy. Even more concerning than this however for the Government and the Bolivarian Process was the enormous bleeding of votes, 1.8 million, between Chavez re-election and Maduro’s election, 6 months later.

At the time, we said this reflected two important factors. Firstly, the absence of Chavez as leader and an underestimation, by Chavism, of the emotional connection the working class and poor had with him. And secondly, the political failures of Chavism to, in their own words, move ’towards’ socialism through laws and reforms within the capitalist system.

After fifteen years of revolution, and counter-revolution from within the Government as well as outside of it and in the absence of a revolutionary alternative, the weariness and disillusionment felt by the working class and poor was reflected in the April elections.

Of course, the other contributing factor was the re-organisation of the right wing and, for the first time since near annihilation after 2004, their loose ’unity’ under the leadership of Henrique Capriles Radonski. Furthermore their shift in tactics from coups and bosses lockouts to electoral participation and a toning down of their reactionary rhetoric to appear more ’centre’ than right has even won over some who previously voted for Chavez and has mobilised the middle and upper middle classes. It would be a grave error to believe that the support that right wing have today is only from within the ruling classes.

In an attempt to maintain support and mobilize for these municipal elections, that historically have high abstention rates, the right wing called them a plebiscite for or against the Maduro government which would bring his legitimacy under the spotlight once again. Such a call could not be more timely for the right wing alliance, MUD, which in the last few months has experienced splits and a decrease in support from sectors of it base that are more reactionary and reject the call for ’change through democracy’.

Obviously, they failed though in their call for a plebiscite, not only because these elections were not of a national character, but also because Chavism won the national vote even though it was by only a small percentage. This will, although temporarily give some strength to Maduro and Chavism.

Pre-Electoral Reforms

Support has also waned for the right as the Government has been able to achieve a certain level of stability, despite the volatile economic situation. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved through genuine steps to implement workers’ control, give control to the community councils without the bureaucracy attached or through a planned economy. In large part, they have achieved this through deals with the national bourgeoisie, such as the Mendoza’s, and more recently transnational companies including Repsol, LG and Samsung as part of the new reforms.

In the last 3 weeks, reforms have been taken to attack inflation, which even by official figures is over 50%, and the ’economic war’ that the government, to some extent correctly, contributes to a campaign of destabilisation waged by the right wing. These reforms that have forced some stores and chains to discount their grossly over-inflated prices of whitegoods and electronics and more recently, car prices and have justifiably been popular and also understandably have been difficult for the right wing to attack.

However, these reforms and readjustment of prices will not be permanent or lead to a better type of capitalism. Furthermore they have not touched many aspects of the economy including food and housing that remain largely unaffordable to most of the population. In media interviews with shoppers during the weeks of long queues to buy goods one shopper questioned why it had taken the government so long to act, while another while welcoming the reforms stated that there are many other areas in which the government must take action. Amongst many the popular sentiment is ’this is December, but next month is January’, in other words this is now, but it will all be different next month after the election and the end of the Christmas bonuses.

The ‘Homeland Plan’

As we explained, the ‘Homeland Plan’ was first presented by Chavez during his last election campaign and was meant to cover his period of mandate from 2013-2019. A period that is now Maduro’s. In this plan, various historical and national objectives are put forward that relate to consolidation of ‘popular power’ through the community councils and the communes, that Venezuela will be converted into an international power, towards the construction of Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century and the salvation of the human species among others.

Although there has been little or no discussion in the community councils, the communes, workplaces, trade unions etc about how this will be implemented, it was last week passed by the National Assembly and now is the Homeland Plan Law.

Surprisingly, this has not had any incidence in the right wing’s speeches or electoral material. Maybe due to the fact that if they did discuss it, it would affect their supporters’ mobilisation in the elections. The implications of the law are that all elected officials are obliged to follow it. So even if they have elected councillors and mayors all their plans must follow the objectives and be approved under the new law.

Maduro made this clear when referring to a meeting he would hold with all new elected mayors after the elections. He stated "everyone who recognises me as President and recognises the Homeland Plan is invited to participate in the great social dialogue, that is simple and clear. Those that don’t recognise me as President will be ostracised in oblivion".

To what extent will the government continue with this position? If there is discontent, opposition or proposals that do not fit into the Homeland Plan from elected leaders of the communes, community councils, workers or revolutionaries will they also been sent into oblivion?

The Perspectives

2014 will not be an easy year for the Venezuelan working class and poor. Sooner then later another devaluation will occur as the government attempts to increase its profits from petroleum exportation.

The economic measures that have and will be taken are not and will never be enough to treat the real problem: capitalism. As we have always said to end poverty, solve the housing crisis, crime, speculation, inflation and so on the roots of the problem must be attacked. The system must be changed!

Although looking at the election results in some areas it may seem there is little space for an alternative we can see that a significant part of the population either did not vote at all or did not vote for the PSUV or the right wing MUD. The struggles of worker’s today such as those of Souto, Sidor, Monaca and so on show the need to construct an alternative that really represents, is made of and controlled by workers and the community. This alternative is the building of an independent movement of the working class, armed with a mass political force to fight for revolutionary socialism .

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December 2013