Can Capriles give a lesson to Nicaragua’s opposition?

Venezuela’s opposition leader is going to try to do something Nicaragua’s opposition couldn’t: defend the vote

News Analysis.

Turning a deaf ear to calls for a recount following Sunday’s contestably close presidential election, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) named Nicolás Maduro president-elect on Monday afternoon, fueling opposition claims that the handpicked heir to Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution is an “illegitimate” and “cowardly” satrap who is pushing the country into a “political crisis.”

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who claims he defeated the incumbent in Sunday’s poll, is calling for a nationwide mobilization to defend the vote and demand a full recount. The first tally gave the official candidate Maduro a twiggy 50% to 49% victory over his younger challenger.

“We think we won and you think you won,” Capriles said Monday night. The candidate accused Maduro of trying to “hide behind” the institutions of Chávez’s political machine and the ghost of his predecessor.

Maduro, however, insists he won fair and square and says a recount would be a waste of time. “I need to get to work!” Maduro yelled on Monday night, during a ceremony where he was proclaimed president-elect.

Venezuela’s CNE, which has been hailed for its institutional professionalism during previous elections won handily by Chávez, is starting to look more like Nicaragua’s tin-pot electoral system, which serves the interests of the ruling party. By ignoring Capriles’ call for a recount and quickly proclaiming Maduro victor, the CNE is risking all the institutional credibility it has built over the years, Capriles charges.

“Don’t sneak out the backdoor and destroy everything you have built over the years in a matter of hours,” Capriles urged the CNE chief Tibisay Lucena.

The opposition only wants an honest recount to determine who most people voted for, Capriles said. The ruling party, however, is trying to “hide the evidence” from the polling stations, the challenger alleges.

“This is a battle between truth and lies,” Capriles said. “We want to verify the vote, which is done in every democratic nation and is something that is provided by our constitution.”

If Maduro accepts the presidency with a recount, his administration will forever be “illegitimate,” Capriles argues.

Maduro, meanwhile, claims the people have spoken and the opposition needs to respect the results showing that he won. Maduro says he is the democrat and the opposition is “fascist.”

“It is impossible for a revolution to exist in Venezuela if it doesn’t abide by the constitution,” Maduro said ominously.    

Maduro’s messy math

Maduro, who since Sunday’s vote has traded his flag-colored campaign trail tracksuit for a more presidential-looking suit and tie, claims his legitimacy as president is unquestionable because the 50% of the voters who supported his candidacy represent the majority of the country.

“Half the population is the majority and half the population is the minority,” Maduro yelled with Yogi Berra logic.

The self-proclaimed “son of Chávez” noted that his predecessor and political father previously won 17 out of 18 elections “by margins of 23% or 18% or 15% or 14% or 12%”—an argument that seemingly does little to support Maduro’s claim to legitimacy.

Nicolas Maduro is always sniffing out conspiracies

“This time it was 2%, but the majority is the majority!” Maduro yelled.

Capriles claims Maduro’s concept of majority is skewed. “There is no majority,” Capriles said afterwards; “there are only two halves of the population.”

Maduro, however, thinks  his half is more important because the half that didn’t support him represents a coup-loving class of bourgeoisie warmongers who are conspiring with foreign rightwing radicals to bring economic ruin to Venezuela, kill him, and then hand over the country to the U.S. imperialists. Unpleasant folks, to say the least.

“This wasn’t a campaign, it was a war against the people,” Maduro yelled on Monday. “A brutal war, a psychological war…they want to kill; they are filled with hatred…They have overdosed on hatred!”

Maduro’s government project, on the other hand, represents a “revolution of love,” he yelled angrily.

Maduro then warned loudly about domestic enemies who have allegedly infiltrated the police and other government institutions. He also warned of foreign enemies, such as the U.S. and Spain. “Be careful, Spain!” Maduro yelled. “Be careful with Venezuela. We defeated the King’s troops before.”

Maduro also yelled about the importance of political unity and consolidating Venezuela’s “political-military leadership” to consolidate Chávez’s revolutionary project.

But despite his loudness, Maduro still has quieter moments when he asks his departed mentor for help and guidance.

“Don’t leave me alone,” Maduro said, apparently to Chávez’s ghost. “Bless me.”

Nicaragua reacts

Venezuela’s uneasy electoral situation is also reverberating in Nicaragua. While the ruling Sandinista Front, one of Chávez’s main political clients for the past six years, has been congratulating Venezuela for giving continuity to chavismo (after weeks of predicting Maduro would win in a landslide), Nicaragua’s slumbering opposition refuses to recognize Maduro’s win.

The Nicaraguan Democratic Bloc (BDN), the largest opposition group in the legislative National Assembly, released a statement Monday evening expressing their “total rejection to the clear and irrefutable irregularities that were committed during the election process and denounced by Enrique Capriles [sic].”

The BDN said it “laments that the Venezuelan electoral process was not transparent or backed by the public will, as required by a modern democracy.” Instead, Nicaragua’s opposition said, the Venezuelan poll was “plagued by a series of anomalies” such as the fact that 370,000 votes were annulled, giving Maduro a margin of victory with fewer than 250,000 votes.

The BDN also lamented that the 70,000-80,000 Venezuelans who voted abroad did not have their ballots counted and that CNE proclaimed Maduro president without a recount.

But with Capriles organizing a nationwide mobilization to defend the vote and demand accountability from Venezuela’s electoral authorities, perhaps Nicaragua’s opposition should stop worrying about their own declarations and start taking some notes.

  • Ken

    Crying election fraud is getting to be quite the habit for Nicaragua’s right, since they’re taking their carping crusade abroad. I just wonder where they were during the Bush/Gore Florida fiasco.

    Face it: It was a 50/50 election, Maduro probably won, but even if he didn’t the country is divided. I don’t object to a recount, but this is majoring in the minors. The important question is what happens next.

    I see three possibilities: (1) Maduro could come into his own as a leftist firebrand and increase his popularity; (2) he could plummet so low in popularity that he hands the next elections to the right; or (3) he could move to the center and earn the support of some of those who now oppose him.

    If people want to insist upon a recount, fine, but to my mind Maduro’s opponents are better off pushing for the third option above, and accepting the second as a consolation prize. This way they have a 67% chance of coming out ahead in a 50/50 election.

  • George

    Tim, kind of surprised by your story. You forgot to mention all the international observers called this a “victory for democracy”. And I have never seen 50.8% rounded to 50? The 350,000 vote lead ….or 2% is an unfortunate reality. The fact that the Chavez appointee won after every single corporate press slagged this guy endlessly and still won is incredible.
    The United States is estimated to have contributed 259 million dollars to the opposition campaign but we will not know the true figure for many years. The US embassy has admitted to “some” support. I remember well on November 6th, 2006 the double center spread of the Prensa and Dairo warning Nicaraguans that if they voted Ortega in…all Nicas would suffer. Paid for by the US Embassy I also visited a town in northern Nica in 1988 where Canadian made land mines were placed on the path to the town water source. I visited the 3 children in the Managua hospital that had feet, legs, eyes removed. Their brother was dead.
    I understand your reservations about this guy…but please step back and understand that Chavez was the most successful in helping people rise out of desperate poverty (25%!!!) than any other country over the last 10 years. The right wing did almost nothing for the poor during the many. many, many years they ran the country. just sayin….
    I know you try to be honest in your reporting….keep at it!

    • car

      this is pathetic. chavez lifted 25% of the population out of poverty? really? how? by giving them housing? what happens next? how do they support THEMSELVES? it’s all crap. the venezualan economy is in the crapper. supermarket shelves are empty. inflation is in the double digits. and all this after more than a decade of his ridiculous bolvarian revolution.

      here, whoretega is doing the same thing. giving away housing and paying some fools a few hundred cordobas to march and stand guard in the rotundas. his cronies in the party are getting rich to be sure. but the poor in nica are just as poor as they were in 2005.