n the early morning hours of September 27, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced, via Twitter, “a solid victory” in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Indeed, with all 167 seats in the National Assembly up for grabs, early results showed Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) nabbing at least 95 seats. Yet, as The Economist blogged: “Seldom has an election victory tasted so bitterly of defeat.” The opposition coalition’s Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) ended the chavistas’ two-thirds majority by picking up at least 61 seats. Moreover, the opposition parties won roughly half of the popular vote. “The Venezuelan people have spoken. May the voice of the people be heard,” said the MUD’s representative Ramón Guillermo Aveledo as the results came in.
How the opposition won such a large portion of ballots but just a third of Assembly seats has much to do with redistricting that shifted representation to rural areas, where Chávez draws greater support. As a prior AS/COA analysis showed through map links, the PSUV “used gerrymandering to break up opposition-favoring districts into a more Chávez-friendly arrangement.” The precise portion of the vote that MUD pulled in was not clear at the time of this report; despite PSUV claims that Venezuela’s electoral system “is the best in the world,” votes continued to be tallied on Monday, leaving a handful of assembly seats undecided. The MUD earned 48 percent of the vote and Fatherland for All party 3 percent, reports El Universal in an article that explains why some votes count more than others even though proportional voting is enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
Venezuelans turned out in large numbers—more than 65 percent of the 17.5 million voters participated—for an election pitched by both sides as a referendum on chavismo. Although pro-Chávez candidates won a majority of seats, the loss of an absolute majority could spell roadblocks for the PSUV. For starters, Chavistas will need to seek opposition support for Supreme Court and National Election Council appointments. Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Joel D. Hirst writes that Chávez will also see his ability to reform the constitution hindered and that parliamentary oversight “will slow the financing he needs to expand twenty-first century Socialism at home and abroad.” Moreover, after its boycott of the 2005 parliamentary allowed for the PSUV to gain the legislative upperhand, the opposition’s gains on Sunday could embolden the MUD coalition ahead of the 2012 presidential vote. Chávez, in office since 1999, will seek another term at that time.
But even if Sunday’s election puts Chávez’s power in check, some observers note the PSUV-dominated legislature maintains control until the new Assembly takes power in January, giving lawmakers time to pass laws that could weaken the legislature’s hand. Furthermore, the PSUV still holds a majority—if not an absolute one—for the next five years until the next elections take place.
- Read an AS/COA news analysis exploring voter redistricting in Venezuela.
- Venezuela’s National Electoral Council’s website, with official results.
- El Universal interactive breakdown of vote results by seat.
- Website of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
- Website of the Coalition Democratic Unity.
- Caracas Chronicles analyzes how Venezuela’s proportional voting system works.