Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cancer may cut short Chavez fourth term

In downtown Caracas fireworks erupted as supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated news of a further six years in power.

Yet Chavez’s new presidential term is plagued by the threat of cancer that no-one can confirm is in complete remission.

President Chavez won re-election as president, according to official results from Venezuela's National Electoral Council on Oct. 7.

The results ended speculation that his rival Henrique Capriles Radonski may have led by over 1 million votes.
Chavez won 54.4 percent of the vote to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski's 44.9 percent.

Estimates of voter participation indicate just how important this election was for Venezuelans. Around 81 percent of the nearly 19 million registered voters went to the polls this week.

Claims of election fraud are expected but the voting system in Venezuela is contemporary enough that counterfeiting would be difficult to hide.

For a while, a break in the decade-long Venezuelan presidential normalcy looked set to arrive.

Henrique Capriles Radonski greeted the Venezuelan people following the election results.

Capriles congratulated President Hugo Chavez saying he is convinced Venezuela can be better and that it will be better, encouraging his followers not to feel defeated.

Mr Capriles, the 40 year old lawyer from Miranda state, coalesced and excited the disparate Venezuelan opposition.

He led a nation-wide campaign to reinvigorate the opposition, even going door-to-door in some areas stirring up support.

A strong selling point for his campaign was the power outages, food shortages, and skyrocketing murder rate. Although Chavez’s support base remains strong, many Venezuelans blame the president’s social direction for the dysfunctions.

President Hugo Chavez has maintained power in Caracas for nearly 14 years, surviving both a rough economic patch and an attempted coup in 2002.

Chavez managed the Venezuelan economy on a somewhat ad-hoc basis leading to gross inefficiencies.

Roads and bridges are quite literally falling apart and prisons are apparently grossly overcrowded and full of armed gangs.

The president came to power promising to spread the wealth and address the country’s poor. Riding a wave of popular support, Chavez overturned the elite and organised an inner circle of trusted officials.

The Venezuelan elite did not take kindly to Chavez’s reforms.

A coup attempt in 2002 orchestrated by the Petroleos de Venezuela Oil Company offered Chavez the chance to take control of the country in unprecedented ways and crippled the national oil company.

However, Chavez’s reign expanded Venezuela’s international influence significantly, especially in Central America.

Nicaragua and Ecuador have benefited from Venezuelan oil exports, while Argentina trades willingly and the two country’s relationships have improved.

It is Chavez’s resistance to a perceived United State’s global domination which truly colours his international reputation.

Suspicious of U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup, Chavez repositioned Venezuela away from the United States, cobbling together strange relationships with other anti-U.S. countries.

This has been the toughest election for the leftist Chavez in his long tenure. A strong support base has confirmed a fourth term but things are clearly changing for Venezuela.

Chavez enters his fourth term as President under a cloud of poor health.

The 57-year-old said earlier this year that he had recovered from cancer, although the exact nature of the disease has never been revealed.

The president was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and rumours of his illness have subsided in the lead-up to the October elections, however there are no reliable sources indicating his cancer is in remission.

Chavez’s health concerns make it unlikely he will complete this new term.

A revision in 2009 of the country’s constitution lays out the president of the National Assembly as the immediate successor. Snap elections would then be called within 30 days.

For the first time in over a decade the opposition is united behind a figurehead like Capriles. Regardless of whether Chavez won fairly, a serious reaction can be expected from Capriles supporters.

If Chavez dies during this next term Capriles may have a second chance to gain power. 

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