Former Venezuelan Vice-President and interim President Nicolás Maduro, whom the late President Hugo Chávez named as his preferred successor, has won the April 14 presidential election, but has done so by far less than polls had portended he would; even a week earlier, some surveys had suggested a winning margin of 14 per cent. Mr. Maduro, a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, a former bus driver and trade union negotiator standing on behalf of the Great Patriotic Pole coalition, defeated his closest rival, Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, by 50.66 per cent to 49.07 per cent of the vote. The turnout, 78.7 per cent of the country’s 19 million voters, was slightly lower than it had been in the October 2012 election, which saw Mr. Chávez, who was already ailing and died of cancer on March 5, elected for a fourth successive term, by a resounding margin of 11 percentage points. Now Mr. Capriles has alleged irregularities and has refused to concede, demanding a recount instead. Before the contest, he had rejected a National Electoral Council document which would have required accepting the outcome, though he had signed a similar document before running against Mr. Chávez in October; Mr. Maduro, however, announced that he would accept the result.
The stakes are very high. Although Mr. Maduro holds strong convictions, he lacks his predecessor’s charisma, and ran a ragged campaign in which he even said Mr. Chávez’s spirit visited him in bird form. Mr. Capriles, for his part, wants the end of the Chávez legislation which has transformed life for millions of poorer Venezuelans; the mainly white Venezuelan elite, who often expressed racist contempt towards Mr. Chávez, would also love to return to the old days. They will find that hard to achieve. Mr. Chávez nationalised the oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, and made transnational oil majors pay the country 16 per cent of their oil royalties, as distinct from the earlier 1 per cent. The money goes to healthcare, education, and housing; a third of Venezuelans are in free state-funded education up to and including university level, and absolute poverty is down from 40 per cent in 1996 to 7.3 per cent. Corruption and violent crime, however, form a continuing blight, and inflation is up to 22 per cent. Yet it was 27 per cent in 2010, and on Mr. Maduro’s side is the fact that tax revenues are now almost equal to oil receipts; Chávez allies also hold 20 out of 23 provinces, and public support for Chávismo goes far beyond this one election at the top. El Comandante’s Bolívarian Revolution will not be easily stopped.