Chavez has become increasingly vulnerable. His reckless spending spree abroad breeds resentment at home as infrastructure and public safety crumble. Unprecedented opposition unity under the leadership of a fiercely determined 40-year old, Henrique Capriles, presents Chavez with his greatest electoral challenge yet. Mr. Chavez’s narrative of a right-wing conspiracy threatening his social programs, which are largely inefficient and politicized, is simply outdated. The opposition offers a clear alternative as embodied by the Brazilian example of combining responsible social spending with business-friendly practices.
Furthermore, a new generation of young voters, constituting roughly a quarter of the electorate, can turn the political tide. Mr. Chavez’s traditional pattern of ramping up social spending just before elections has become less convincing. Traditional supporters from the working class and lower-middle class grow increasingly disenchanted with the status quo. All along, Venezuela’s slums have grown and poverty prevails. Chavez came to power largely as a reaction to decades of neglect of the underclasses. Ironically, they may be the ones who eventually vote him out. However, support from diehard loyalists remains firm provided they are consistently rewarded with privileges and material benefits.
By treating state oil revenues as his personal bank account, Mr. Chavez is biting the hand that feeds Venezuela. His insatiable ego is leading it on the road to ruin. The irresponsible pursuit of short-term political gain damages the long-term public interest by depriving future generations of the benefits of Venezuela’s natural resources.
Should the opposition prevail in the October 7th election, the military’s role will be crucial to ensuring a smooth transition. However, all institutions of state power, including the armed forces, the courts and state oil company, are stacked with highly politicized Chavista supporters. Dealing with such institutional realities in a deeply polarized country would be the single greatest challenge of a new government, as would the long road to reconciliation.
However, regardless of outcome, this election marks the ideological defenestration of Hugo Chavez. The historical tide is against him. His narrative of empowering the poor is simply bankrupt. The current system is intrinsically flawed and inefficient. It is being held together by traditional patronage backed by oil money. A new class of Chavista kleptocrats has simply replaced the preceding establishment from a generation ago. Although the faces have changed, the general practices remain largely intact.
Vicenzino is a contributor to FreeVenezuela.org and directs Global Strategy Project