President Hugo Chávez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has, as expected, held its majority in the 165-seat National Assembly, winning 96 seats along with its allies. The opposition United Movement for Democracy (MUD) alliance, which boycotted the 2005 general election and was led this time by Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, put up a decent fight, taking 64 seats. The single-chamber Assembly, which serves a five-year term, is elected by a combination of the proportional closed party list system, a single-member simple majority system, and a plurality multi-member system. The Assembly also has three seats reserved for indigenous peoples, and nominations for these are open to all parties. The main political outcome of the election is that the ruling party has lost its earlier two-thirds majority. This means the President can no longer appoint judges and get major legislation passed without effective opposition.
The 66 per cent voter turnout reflected the intense interest this election aroused in the region and beyond. Mr. Chávez effectively turned the campaign into a referendum on himself, with blanket coverage on state radio and television and compulsory live broadcasts of his speeches on the private stations. The opposition, for its part, focussed on issues such as rotting food, high crime rates, the quality of public services, and the effects of the recession on the overall economy. It got substantial propaganda support from influential sections of the international media, which have all but replaced Cuba's Fidel Castro with Mr. Chávez as their pet Latin American hate-figure. Secondly, between 2003 and 2008, the United States Agency for International Development increased the number of Venezuelan programmes it funds from 66 to 623, with a total input of $20 million; it has been publicly accused of aiming to remove Mr. Chávez. Thirdly, this year alone has seen $40-50 million channelled to anti-Chávez groups, particularly opposition parties. On the other side, poorer Venezuelans have strongly backed Mr. Chávez, often stating in public opinion polls that he has ended their political exclusion. Like most Latin American voters, they know what it is to be victims of brutal U.S.-backed dictatorships during the Cold War and of the economic destruction visited upon them by international financial institutions in the 1990s. With unemployment down from 15 per cent in 1999 to 8 per cent today, they can also point to substantial improvement in their economic condition. Mr. Chávez and the PSUV face tough challenges but Venezuelan voters have given them a strongly renewed mandate.