Who Will Decide Venezuela’s Election?

PRAGUE – Venezuela’s presidential election campaign is in full swing, with voters expected to go to the polls on October 7 to elect their head of state. The campaign pits Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of the state of Miranda, against the incumbent president, Hugo Chávez, who has been in power since 1999.

What makes this election unique, in our view, is that for the first time, Chávez, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office, faces a credible challenger in Capriles, who has managed to unite disparate opposition political parties under his banner. In fact, some recent polls have put Chávez only slightly more than three percentage points ahead of Capriles. That is certainly good news for Venezuela’s fledgling democracy, and raises hopes for a genuine democratic contest.

Nevertheless, we believe that it is necessary to express our concern about the precarious state of affairs in Venezuela on the eve of the vote. If anything, the situation in the country is marked by a high degree of uncertainty, because no one knows to what lengths Chávez might go to retain his grip on power.

What is clear is that the regime appears increasingly determined to ensure its survival by any means necessary. Chávez has all the normal advantages of incumbency, but can also be expected to use every available administrative resource at his disposal to ensure re-election.