President Hugo Chávez fell short of the two-thirds majority he needed to “radicalize the revolutionary process” as the opposition gained steam in the Sept. 26 parliamentary elections that were held amid high inflation, crime, and a lack of basic services.
According to the National Electoral Council, Chávez´s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, won 98 of Congress´ 165 seats up for election, but the opposition Roundtable for Unity, or MUD, and the Homeland for Everyone Party won the remaining seats in the unicameral National Assembly.
But Chávez´s objective was to win 110 seats, or a two-thirds majority, which is required for the designation of Supreme Court justices, members of the electoral board and naming officials in the Obmudsman´s and Comptroller´s Offices.
The two-thirds majority is also required for constitutional reforms or to call an assembly to redraw the constitution, modify laws or authorize the president to create, modify or suspend public services in the case of an emergency.
Chávez even missed the 99 seats required to approve a law authorizing the president to legislate by decree.
Electoral law questioned
Venezuela´s opposition politicians declared victory with the vote, but questions arose over the country´s controversial electoral law, which gives more weight to rural areas. The opposition, however, says it serves to favor pro-Chávez regions.
Of the 17.6 million registered voters, the two opposition parties that won seats in the National Assembly topped the popular vote, capturing 5.8 million votes, but only won 40 percent of the seats, while the ruling party won only 5.3 million votes and had 60 percent of the seats. Voter absenteeism was one-third of the electorate.
Venezuela´s 2009 electoral law gives more wait to rural areas than urban ones, and the opposition notes that this means more support for Chávez.
For example, in the southwestern Apure state, a heavily pro-Chávez region, 30,000 votes are required for a National Assembly Representative, while in the capital, 100,000 are needed.
“We are the majority,” said Guillermo Aveledo, party chairman for the MUD, adding that the vote meant the beginning of the end for the Chavista government, ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.
“Those of us who oppose the government are 52 percent of the electorate and the current Assembly no longer represents Venezuela, and it can no longer morally and politically decide on how to legislate,” he said, referring to the outgoing lawmakers who were elected in 2005.
Aristóbulo Istúriz, campaign chief and legislator-elect for the PSUV, called the vote a “resounding victory,” though he acknowledged that the party failed to reach a two-thirds majority.
Legislating by decree
Still, opposition leaders worry that in the months leading up to Jan. 5, when the new legislature takes office, Chávez will try to wrest power away from the incoming opposition lawmakers.
Some analysts say that the outgoing legislature, which Chávez controls, may allow the president to legislate by decree.
Chávez, for his part, challenged the opposition ahead of the 2012 vote and said his government will only prove its strength.
“I´m publically challenging you to unseat me,” he said. “Hopefully one of you will respond.”