The death of Hugo Chavez opened the discussion not only on the political succession but also on the survival of the Bolivarian revolution and the future of Venezuela’s way to socialism. Is Maduro the right leader and how solid are the foundations of the bolivarian revolution? Will they survive Chavez death, or they were a mirror of its leader?
The recent presidential election contain itself some answers and signals that we are maybe approaching a change. Nicolas Maduro, the appointed leader chosen by Chavez, was seen by many set to win with a large majority, a victory in the pocket never in discussion. The main point was that although Maduro may not have the charisma and political skills of Chavez, ultimately the grief and the relative short period in the preparation of these elections would benefit him rather than a debate on his programme. When Maduro has been chosen, obviously in the Socialist Party of Venezuela there was the idea that the institutions were solid, a strong and solid block of support was created and the work in these years created a barrier against the resurgence of the conservative policy. All these reasons led many to believe that Maduro was therefore set for an easy victory.
The result has been the opposite: Maduro won by a slim margin, accusation of illegal acts have emerged from the opposition leader Capriles, while the US did not lose time in not recognizing the new government. The opposition protests are not really a news, even with Maduro winning at 60% that would have been accusations, as demonstrated at every election where Chavez used to win and considered illegal and unconstitutional by opposition, US , EU and so on. Although Capriles is right in asking a recount, that should and must be performed when such a slim difference is present between contestants, in reality the missing point is there in clear evidence: Maduro did not win by a landslide, something has been lost. The sadness and overwhelming grief that was supposed to put wings under his feet suddenly transformed in sandbags with Maduro coming back to earth. Venezuelans seem more concerned about their future and less prepared to follow a new and less charismatic leader.
Chavez in the last election won with 55.07% of the votes, meaning that 5% of voters have already abandoned the Bolivarian revolution. Maduro should be more preoccupied to conquer the hearths of his supporters rather than fight the opposition. The violence and protests that followed the elections are clearly the result of a society on the verge of change: socialism or back to conformism?. Venezuela has been for years at the forefront of a socialist renaissance, projecting left-wing radicalism into the 21st century. Chavez had the merit to be seen as the successor of the Cuban revolution icon, inspiring other countries to follow. Chavez, along with Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador constituted a solid anti-imperialist block, but also they influenced and supported left movements in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Chavez represented the real antagonist to US policies in Latin America, a real new power capable to build relations with other countries tired of european and american-centrism. Even some opponents praised Chavez policies in relieving the living conditions of the poor.
With such presentation Venezuela lost its leader, opening what in the past has been a recurrent issue for socialism: how to continue a policy for the community avoiding personality’s cult? How to manage to continue the programme with a new leader, are ideas powerful than men? Even in a one party states, where succession is assured by no contest, decline has been sometime the result of solid institutions but with the wrong man in power, or fragile institutions that worked under a brilliant but then lost leader.
Venezuela, that is still a multiparty system for whoever forgot that, has to face the reality of the electorate’s unpredictability that often cause ungovernability in western countries by giving birth to governments without a real majority. Maduro re-election sounds more like a defeat rather than victory and, recount or no, it seem that the bolivarian revolution is losing already its grip on the society. Maduro’s slim victory has open a door that many, included Capriles and the US, thought already closed. How this will turn out for Venezuelans is not easy to foresee, either the country will continue to represent a strong opponent to neo-liberist policies or violence, military coups and guerrillas, that are not uncommon in the continent, could bring back the typical dysfunctional democracy of many Latin American states.