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Hugo Chavez’s relection yesterday as President of Venezuela can be interpreted as a democratic endorsement of the ant-US populism he has championed across the region. The election results will disappoint the United States, which had been hoping for a change in Caracas and a slow end to the strident anti-Americanism propagated by Chavez, but it will immensely please other leftist leaders in the region who will find their own positions strengthened after Venezuelans’ verdict.
The reelection is a huge victory for Chavez who has been fighting multiple battles, on the political and health fronts. The National Electoral Council announced the president had secured 54.4 percent of the votes, while his rival Capriles was behind with 44.9 percent. This was billed as the closest race of his political life and a few had expected a surprise, but were disappointed when the results came.
The relection now conclusively proves his popularity and the immense support he enjoys among Venezuelans. Chávez has held on to power for thirteen years and that too despite an attempted coup, a crippling nationwide oil strike and a bitter fight with cancer, which he almost lost. He will continue in power with a huge majority and will be free to carry out the policies which he had followed.
Chávez must use the victory to correct the past mistakes, as he himself had promised, and reach out to the people who are not so happy with his policies. Among other things, he had also promised to continue to build a socialist alternative to the capitalist model, and redistribute the wealth from the oil revenues and help the ideological allies such as Cuba and Nicaragua. It’s to be seen how he will act on these promises.
Chavez’s victory is a lesson for other world leaders too. It shows that people will reelect their leader as long as they think he has worked for them. Reports say that Chavez has brought concrete benefits to his people since the leader of the nation’s “Bolivarian revolution” first came to power in 1999. His government has expanded education and healthcare while reducing poverty and he has been credited with writing one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. The economy has been good, thanks to soaring oil prices. Among his failures has been a deterioration in security and a rise in violent crime. The president will have to address these issues during his new term.
One positive fallout of the election has been the strengthening of the opposition, which should use its strength to work as a corrective force. Chavez has tried to reach out to the opposition after the results and he needs to listen to them more to take the country forward.