Monday, April 15, 2013

Maduro Barely Wins With 1.6% Lead, Capriles Demands Full Recount

Venezuelan politics have taken an unexpected turn after interim president Nicolas Maduro barely scraped by in yesterday’s presidential election, despite polls giving him a nearly ten-point lead over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in the lead-up to the vote.

According to the tally posted by National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) at around 11pm, Maduro won roughly 7,505 million votes (50.6 percent) to Capriles’ 7,270 million (49.1 percent), with 99.2 percent of ballots counted. As this helpful graphic by El Universal shows, Capriles beat Maduro in eight of Venezuela’s 23 states.

The reasons for the surprisingly narrow lead are unclear. CNE data shows that the abstention rate was around 20.16 percent, which is higher than in last year’s presidential election (19.06 percent) but lower than in the 2006 election (25.31 percent), suggesting that absenteeism was not a major factor in the results.

In a subdued victory speech, Maduro recognized that the win was a “Pyrrhic victory,” although he vowed to continue the Chavista project, saying “the course continues to be towards socialism.” He also claimed that Capriles had proposed an official “pact” with him, which he turned down.

Capriles, meanwhile, has refused to accept the voting tally and demanded a full recount of all paper ballots. El Nacional reports that in a late night speech, the opposition leader presented a list of more than 3,200 inconsistencies in the electoral process and accused Maduro of influencing its outcome. "Mr. Maduro, if you were illegitimate before, now you are more so," he said.

According to Venezuela analyst David Smilde, it is unclear whether the CNE has the “capacity or willingness” to carry out Capriles’ demand, although even Maduro has publicly supported the idea, according to Noticias24. CNE Rector Vicente Diaz has also endorsed calls for a recount, but the other members of the election-monitoring body’s governing board did not address the issue last night.

Regardless of whether a recount is carried out, there is no doubt that Maduro’s political future will be difficult. He has now been proven to lack the popular mandate of his predecessor, and the opposition is guaranteed to exploit this vulnerability. Even if a recount is held and his margin of victory is found to be slightly higher (which is the best he can hope for), his administration’s policies moving forward will doubtlessly be shaped by the criticisms of the opposition.

In this sense, the vote may have even given the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) a method to set the national agenda on its own terms, which has until now been impossible for the party in the absence of a majority in the National Assembly.

Maduro’s weakened position was best illustrated Capriles’ speech last night, in which he personally addressed the interim president, saying:
"The big loser tonight is you and your government. Here is another image of the country, and while I respect the people who voted for the other option, I demand respect for the people who voted for us. The country is split into two halves.”

News Briefs
  • In an overview that provides useful insight into Capriles’ claims of election irregularities, Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a three-part series (part I, part II, part III) on the advantages that being the incumbent had on Maduro’s presidential campaign. The blog’s authors conclude that the electronic voting system and audit used by the CNE are admirably transparent, but its ability to restrict campaigns is severely limited. However, they also argue that this has had a negligible effect on the ability of voting to serve as an expression of popular will in Venezuela.
  • Maduro’s Twitter feed was hacked was last night, adding to the tension in the country’s political climate. The AP reports that the hacker posted a joke on Maduro’s feed about the interim president’s number of followers, and officials claim that the attack came from Bogota, although a Peruvian hacker collective took credit for the incident.
  • El Tiempo reports that a public dispute over amnesty for rights violations committed by left wing rebels has emerged between the Colombian Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre and the government’s official prosecutor, Alejandro Ordoñez. The polemic began last week when Montealegre announced that arrest warrants against six members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been suspended in order to facilitate the ongoing peace talks in Havana. Ordoñez criticized the move, saying that it amounted to a violation of Colombia’s obligations under international humanitarian law and could cause the country to become a “pariah state.” In response, Montealegre reminded his government colleague that no FARC member has been convicted of crimes against humanity.
  • Americas Quarterly contributor Jenny Manrique takes a look at the strange alliances being forged across the political spectrum in Colombia. While traditionally conservative President Juan Manuel Santos has earned praise from many on the left for his efforts at promoting peace in the country, his ex-boss turned political foe Alvaro Uribe’s criticism of the peace talks as a re-election strategy has been shared by the leftist Democratic Pole party.
  • The Washington Post reports on the sale of Venezuelan news channel Globovision, an overtly anti-Chavez news station which some fear will soften its coverage when it is sold to Juan Domingo Cordero, a business executive with ties to the government.
  • The L.A. Times has a piece on Mexico’s growing community vigilante movement, which has begun to build ties to other social movements in the country. This is especially evident in the state of Guerrerro, where community vigilante groups have paired up with teachers unions to protest the government’s education reform plan.
  • After the Mexican government’s release of (somewhat suspect) statistics suggesting that crime-linked homicides have fallen under President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope argues that the number has been falling since May 2011, so the Peña Nieto can’t take all the credit for this trend.
  • The New York Times has an overview of recent testimony by victims of military abuses committed under Guatemala’s Efrain Rios Mont, as the former dictator’s trial goes into its third week.
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa traveled to Germany yesterday and met with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss building economic ties between the two countries. According to EFE he will continue his international tour by heading to Italy on Thursday, and then on to Spain, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
  • Writing for Foreign Policy, American University professor William M. LeoGrande provides a detailed explanation of how the anti-Castro lobby became one of the most powerful special interest groups in the United States.