The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

In Venezuela, an election about the future is haunted by the past

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on April 14, pitting Hugo Chavez’s vice president and chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, against Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who lost to Chavez in 2012. At stake: whether Chavez’s legacy will continue after his death.

Most analysts see Maduro as the favorite. Many believe the fear of losing the social and economic gains made during the Chavez years will be the most important motivator for voters if Maduro is elected. Others see Maduro gaining from sympathy votes after Chavez’s death. Still others see the electoral timetable as working against the opposition. A short campaign season — two weeks — could favor the government, which has more resources at its disposal. All these perspectives cite recent polling that puts Maduro at about an 18-point advantage over Capriles (see table below).

Voting intention by polling firm (March 2013) Maduro Capriles Datanálisis

49

35 Hinterlaces

53

35 ICS

58

41 CNE

54

32 Average

54

36

So it’s a done deal, right? Maduro is the odds-on favorite. Not necessarily. Polls like those cited above can be notoriously unstable before campaigns begin — take the sudden rise of Mitt Romney after the first debate against U.S. President Barack Obama. At the time, many thought Romney had gained the advantage but this was not the case. The polls can often be false positives. II believe it’s best to first look at the underlying political fundamentals before making a call. Do they favor the opposition or government candidate?

In this case, the fundamentals actually favor Capriles. Why? First and foremost, the economy is slowing down. Most economists project a significantly lower GDP growth rate for 2013 than for 2012 (1.9 percent versus 5.2 percent). A slowing economy typically translates into unhappy voters who, in turn, take it out on the government candidate — in this case, Maduro. Second, voter optimism is relatively weak across the board, indicating, at first blush, a closer race than the polls suggest. Specifically, a recent Ipsos poll shows a 7 percent drop in the number of Venezuelans who feel the country is on the right track. Other polling firms show a similar trend (see chart below).

from The Great Debate:

Chávez’s death leaves Venezuelans with hard choices

Venezuela has kicked off a presidential election campaign whose charismatic central figures are a governor and a ghost. The victor, however, may well be the flesh and blood heir of a revolutionary regime left to grapple with real and deepening crises.

The opposition has seized upon the death of President Hugo Chávez last week as an opportunity to break the 14-year grip on power of the self-styled socialist revolutionary and send their candidate, state Governor Henrique Capriles, to the Miraflores palace in elections set for April 14. But the outpouring of grief following El Comandante’s death from cancer showed the polarizing figure will continue to grip the national psyche.

from The Great Debate:

With Chavez gone, what of ‘Chavismo’?

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“The End of the Chávez Era” That was the headline on Colombia’s major newspaper, El Tiempo, the day after Hugo Chávez’s death.

True, Chávez’s controversial and colorful 14-year rule has ended, and Venezuela has lost a president who evoked uncommonly intense passions among followers and detractors.   Venezuelans will not easily forget a leader who, for better or worse, was the consummate showman and left an indelible mark on a highly polarized society.

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