The people of Venezuela had a powerful attachment to the late Hugo Chavez, but their support for Chavismo, as a movement or ideology, has proved to be tenuous. The very narrow victory of Nicolas Maduro, the Acting President, in the election on Sunday, shows the limits of Mr. Chavez’s posthumous hold over the country. For that matter, as of press time, the results were not definitive, and the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, might yet prevail.
The movement away from Mr. Maduro may have been sudden. Most polls had predicted that he would have a 14-per-cent margin. Confidence in Mr. Maduro was not strengthened by his declaration that the spirit of Mr. Chavez had appeared to him in the form of a bird. And his attempt to blame the opposition for Venezuela’s chronic electricity blackouts, when the government owns the whole energy sector, can hardly have been persuasive.
It is not easy for anyone to transform himself from a subordinate of a caudillo-like leader, who projected himself as a large-than-life persona, into an imitation of that leader. Supporters of a dynamic demagogue such as Mr. Chavez may lack enthusiasm for someone who had been a subservient lieutenant.
Nonetheless, the narrow victory is testimony to the considerable integrity of the Venezuela electoral system. If Mr. Chavez had been a dictator, in the strict sense of the term, Mr. Capriles would not have fared nearly so well. The continuing doubt about the result is mostly a question of whether the votes of citizens living outside the country – most of whom are anti-Chavistas – have been counted.
If Mr. Maduro’s success is confirmed, he will have a six-year term. Some commentators think he will be weakened by Mr. Capriles’ strong showing, but he has a majority in the National Assembly, and the next parliamentary election is more than two years away. In the meantime, Mr. Maduro would be well advised not to be a poor imitation of the flamboyant Mr. Chavez, but rather to govern moderately, which may accord better with his own character.