Economist – Troubles on two fronts

“Venezuela is in the throes of a presidential campaign that does not officially begin until next year. The opposition Democratic Unity coalition is due to choose its candidate in February. Assuming the government does not tamper with the timetable—which is by no means guaranteed—the election will be held in December 2012. But one issue already overshadows all others in this divided nation: can the former army officer, who has been in power since 1999, win a third six-year term?”

“Having been mired in recession for the past couple of years, and plagued by inflation of close to 30%, the country has recently returned to growth. Thanks in part to higher oil prices, the government is optimistically projecting a 4% rise in GDP this year, although private-sector estimates are around half that rate. Even if growth remains modest, Mr Chávez has squirrelled away billions of dollars in unaudited public funds, and should be able to pay for a pre-election spending binge.”

“The president himself has pointed to polls from a government-linked outfit, GIS XXI, which gave him 51% support. That is impressive after 12 years in office, but is well short of the dominance he enjoyed going into previous elections. Less sympathetic analysts have noted that three-fifths or more of the electorate think he should step down in 2012. One survey found that the leading contender for the opposition candidacy—Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of Miranda state, which includes much of greater Caracas—could beat him in a head-to-head contest.”

“In addition to his blatant use of state resources for his campaign, Mr Chávez enjoys a stranglehold over the electoral authority. Many state employees believe the government knows how they vote, a concern that will only grow if a proposal to equip electronic ballot machines with fingerprinting devices is approved.”


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