At stake: National Assembly
A country deeply divided in followers and detractors of an eccentric president, Venezuela is also the fifth largest oil exporter in the world. A populist left-wing government has led the nation since 1999, concentrating on social programs and opposing open market policies in the name of a “Bolivarian Revolution” and “21st Century Socialism.”
In 1947, renowned native writer Rómulo Gallegos of Democratic Action (AD) became the first democratically elected president in the South American country. He was ousted a few months later in a military coup led by Marcos Pérez Jiménez. A repressive dictatorship was instated until 1958, when a popular revolt forced the colonel to flee the country.
A new constitution was implemented in 1961. Oil revenues maintained the Venezuelan economy in a privileged position, but also increased the country’s wealth gap.
In the mid-1970s—under the rule of the AD’s Carlos Andrés Pérez—Venezuela benefited from high oil prices in the international market. The country joined the economic association of Latin American States known as the Andean Group, and nationalized the oil and iron industries.
In the early 1980s, Venezuela’s prosperity and low foreign debt came to an end when oil prices fell worldwide. As inflation and unemployment raised causing political instability, Pérez took office again in 1989. After surviving two violent attempted coups in 1992, his presidency ended when he was accused of corruption. In 1996, Pérez was sentenced to 28 months of house arrest for aggravated generic embezzlement.
Former president Rafael Caldera—who had governed from 1969 to 1974—came back to power in 1994 representing the National Convergence (CN) party. Caldera started a process of privatization of national industries that his successor would radically reverse.
In 1999, Hugo Chávez—a former colonel who served two years in jail for leading one of the coups against Pérez—was elected president running as an independent.
Chávez halted the privatization process and took measures to increase oil prices. In 1999, a new constitution was approved after a national referendum. The presidential term was extended from four to six years with the possibility of consecutive re-election. The president was also granted more power to take economic decisions, and the unicameral National Assembly was established.
The new constitution called for new elections. In July 2000, Chávez won the presidential ballot with 59.5 per cent of the vote, representing the Patriotic Pole (PP) coalition. The alliance included Chávez’s Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), the Movement to Socialism (MAS), and Fatherland for Everybody (PPT).
In 2001, the left-wing leader introduced 49 new laws, including some that gave the state tighter controls over the oil industry and land reforms.
In 2002, Chávez faced a general strike after he tried to take full control of the state-administered oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). That same year, he survived a 48-hour coup led by businessman Pedro Carmona and some rogue military officers. Ten people died and more than a hundred were injured when thousands of Chávez followers and detractors clashed in street demonstrations.
A recall referendum on Chávez’s rule took place in August 2004, after many attempts from the opposition to gather enough signatures to force a ballot. In the end, 59 per cent of all voters supported the head of state, in a process considered as “transparent” by the Organization of American States (OAS).
In December 2005, Venezuelan voters renewed their National Assembly in an election marked by a low turnout.
In late April 2006, Chávez joined Bolivian president Evo Morales and Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, and agreed to set up a “people’s trade bloc.” In May, Morales and Chávez announced the establishment of mining company Minersur. The Venezuelan government has committed $140 million U.S. in loans to the Bolivian administration.
Final results of the December 2006 presidential election gave Chávez the victory with 62.89 per cent, with Manuel Rosales—the opposition’s unity candidate—a distant second with 36.85 per cent.
In December 2007, a package of constitutional amendments tabled by the president and endorsed by the National Assembly—where pro-Chávez lawmakers control more than two-thirds of the seats—was narrowly defeated in a nationwide referendum. The proposed changes included the introduction of a clause that would allow the unlimited re-election of the head of state, new land ownership rules, and ending the autonomy of the Central Bank.
In 2007, the government began to engage in a media war. Chávez accused Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) of harming his “revolution” and siding with the opposition. The president decided that RCTV—a network that had been on air for 54 years—would not see its operating license renewed. RCTV workers and journalists appealed through international lawyers. The case was reviewed by the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which ruled in favour of the government. RCTV continues to broadcast on cable and satellite systems.
In the November 2008 municipal elections, pro-Chávez parties emerged victorious in 17 of the country’s 22 regions. Chávez later proclaimed himself a “presidential pre-candidate” for the 2012 ballot and submitted a bill to the legislature seeking to allow him to run again by changing the constitution and ending term limits. The measure would also allow mayors, governors, state legislators and national legislators to be re-elected indefinitely.
The National Assembly approved his proposals and called a referendum on them. In February 2009, 54 per cent of the electorate voted to support the reforms.
In July 2009, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and some of his aides went on a hunger strike over alleged harassment and what they called “sabotaging” of the city administration by the Chávez government. Ledezma had defeated pro-Chávez candidate Aristobulo Isturiz in 2008.
In August 2009, the government closed 34 radio stations and two small television networks that were all regarded as being critical of the Chávez administration.
Throughout 2009, energy-rich Venezuela faced repeated blackouts and water shortages. On Oct. 27, the president reiterated earlier calls for people to ration their energy use, adding that wasting electricity is “a crime.”
2010 National Assembly Election
Venezuelans will vote in legislative elections on Sept. 26 to renew the 165 seats in the National Assembly. This will be the first legislative election to take place under new electoral regulations approved in 2009.
The legislature is currently dominated by members of President Hugo Chávez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Opposition organizations and political parties have assembled the Democratic Unified Panel (MUD) to contest the upcoming ballot.
On Feb. 2, Chávez said he expects to celebrate another 11 years in office, saying, “I’m 55 years old, with 11 years as president now. I promise I’ll take care of myself a little better and, if you like, in 11 years I’ll be 66—God willing—with 22 years as president.”
In 2010, university students protested the closing of television channel RCTV, which was openly critic of the government. Chávez’s government revoked RCTV’s public license to broadcast in 2007. The channel has been operating on cable and radio since.
On Feb. 3, RCTV spokesman Elías Bitar commented on the government’s decision to pressure cable and satellite companies to drop the channel, saying, “They said we haven’t respected the rules they created especially for us. (…) This is an attack against freedom of speech, not just against us, but against the people.”
Venezuela has suffered from power and water outages for over two years. Oil production has plummeted, and so has agricultural output. Venezuela currently imports 70 per cent of its food intake. In June, while government port authorities faced criticism over the rotting of over 100,000 tonnes of food, Chávez chastised private food distributing companies, calling them “food hoarders” and blaming them for the grocery and goods shortages that have become frequent across the country. The rotting food had been imported by the government and was destined for sale at government-run grocery chains.
On Jul. 12, MUD executive secretary Ramón Guillermo Aveledo said his movement will invite foreign observers to monitor the election, saying, “All we want is that they are here and witness what is going on. Hopefully they will have access to the voting tables or the computer centres, but it is already of great help that they are in Venezuela.”
President: Hugo Chávez – MVR
The president is elected to a six-year term by popular vote.
Legislative Branch: The Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly) will have 167 members, elected to five-year terms by proportional representation.
Results of Last Election:
President – Dec. 3, 2006.
|Hugo Chávez –
Fifth Republic Movement (MVR)
|Manuel Rosales –
A New Time (UNT)
|Luis Reyes –
Organized Youth of Venezuela (JOVEN)
|Venezuela da Silva –
New Social Order (NOS)
|Carmelo Romano Pérez –
Liberal United People Movement (MULP)
|Alejandro Suárez –
National Feeling Movement (MSN)
|Eudes Vera –
|Carolina Contreras –
|Pedro Aranguren –
Conscience of Country Movement (MCP)
|José Tineo –
Third Millenium Venezuela (VTM)
|Yudith Salazar –
Sons of the Fatherland (HP)
|Angel Yrigoyen –
Let’s Break The Chains (RC)
|Homer Rodríguez –
For the Love of Venezuela (PQV)
|Isbelia León –
Strength and Peace Institution (IFP)
National Assembly – Dec. 4, 2005
|Fifth Republic Movement (MVR)||114|
|For Social Democracy (PDS)||15|
|Fatherland for Everybody (PPT)||11|
|People’s Electoral Movement (MEP)||11|
|Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV)||8|
|Venezuelan People’s Union (UPV)||8|
Note: Democratic Action (AD), the Social Christian Party (Copei), Project Venezuela (Proven), Justice First (PJ) and ANew Time (UNT) boycotted the election.