Voters should expect to see “a new Chavez, a rejuvenated Chavez, touring the country as a candidate, touring the streets at a rhythm set by the circumstances”, said Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez after the date for Venezuela’s presidential elections was announced as October 7, 2012.
The Venezuelan Electoral Commission’s (CNE) president Tibisay Lucena also announced that judicial, regional and local elections would take place on separate dates.
The right-wing, US-funded Venezuelan opposition hopes Chavez’s battle with cancer will keep him from his fourth straight victory in a presidential election.
But Chavez was upbeat and referred to the coming electoral campaign as the “October 7 mission”. Chavez said the campaign should aim to win 10 million votes. In 2006, Chavez won more than 7.3 million votes (63%).
Chavez said he would kick-start the re-election campaign on February 4: “We’ve set that date as the start of our official march towards the October 7 victory.”
February 4 is the date in 1992 when Chavez led a failed military rebellion against the corrupt, neoliberal government of President Carlos Andres Perez. Although the rising failed, it turned Chavez into a hero among the poor majority.
Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will again lead the campaign as part of the left-wing Patriotic Pole electoral coalition with smaller left-wing groups, which has already endorsed Chavez as its candidate.
Since Chavez’s first election in 1998, his government has sought to redistribute the nation’s oil wealth through pro-poor social missions and other measures, such as nationalising key industries. These measures have halved poverty and millions of people have access to free education and health care for the first time.
Chavez said that if he was to win a fourth term, he might call on the National Assembly to pass an enabling law granting him special powers to enact reforms.
Chavez has previously used such constitutional powers to deepen the socialist revolution in Venezuela.
The PSUV has been holding sign-on sessions across the country to the new “vanguard patrols”. These grassroots bodies that will, among other things, campaign for his re-election.
The patrols have already enlisted more than 2 million members across seven weekends of recruiting.
Starting from October 1, the PSUV will begin the process of organising the members into local patrols of 10 to 20 members. Patrol bases, which will act as command centres, will be formed out of the patrols.
The divided opposition will again try to unite under the banner of the Democratic Unity Forum (MUD), which will hold primaries on February 12 to choose a presidential candidate to challenge Chavez.
There are 18 hopefuls so far vying for MUD endorsement. These include the governor of Miranda state (and participant in the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez) Henrique Capriles Radonski; 2006 presidential candidate and now fugitive from corruption charges Manuel Rosales; and Maria Corina Machado, current member of the National Assembly and former president of US-funded opposition group Sumate.
MUD has now been joined by the Progressive Front for Change (FPC), a grouping of mostly former Chavista parties, such as Homeland for All (PPT), Radical Cause (La Causa R) and We Can (Podemos).
Venezuelan journalist Eleazar Diaz Rangel has warned that the period leading up to the presidential election will be like “passing through a minefield, full of uncertainty and danger”. Rangel said this was due to the improbability of a MUD victory in 2012, making the opposition unpredictable.
Those in the opposition who consider the defeat of Chavez to be “mission impossible”, Rangel said, might be tempted to engage in destabilising actions, such as trying to discredit the electoral process.
“You don’t have to have a crystal ball to realize that surely in governing circles of the United States are also divided, according to the information they receive from Caracas, and they will align themselves with either hawks or doves.”
[Owen Richards is the author of the Venezuela: translating the revolution blog.]