Venezuelan polls test Chávez

Monday, November 24, 2008

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in his trademark red shirt.

Polls have closed across Venezuela Sunday. The polls will elect mayors, governors and legislators across the country, and are considered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's opponents and supporters as a potentially important political gain or loss since Chavez's failed constitutional referendums last year.

One of the year-old referenda would have allowed the President of Venezuela to be re-elected indefinitely, which was narrowly defeated in late 2007. So it comes as no surprise that Chávez's supporters and opponents alike regard the new poll as a test of the President's standing within the citizenry.

Among his supporters, he is regarded as a populist for turning the nation's massive oil wealth into capital for schools, hospitals, and subsidized food. Among his opponents, he is regarded as a dictatorial and ineffective leader.

While there is truth to both sides, times have become difficult and reality is taking shape: the Venezuelan economy is taking a beating as oil prices continue to drop, and the nation's inflation rate is the highest in South America; the murder rate in the country is still the highest within South America. Despite many supporters' adoration of Chávez, it appears that there are some promises that have not been kept.

It remains to be seen what the results of the poll are. But as Chávez refers to the mayors and governors up for election as "my candidates", it's apparent that this is as much about the President as local politics.