There is still a lot of life left in Venezuela’s socialist crusader, Hugo Chavez, who won another historic mandate in the country’s just-concluded presidential elections. Had there been doubts among the majority of the electorate on this score — about the survivability of the president, who only days ago was known to be battling cancer — the results might have read differently in Venezuela. But Mr Chavez, whose hold on the national imagination can scarcely be doubted, had managed to convince his people about his invincibility the moment he declared himself to be free of the disease and, therefore, eligible to run for the office again. Mr Chavez perhaps inflicted the most serious damage on his contender, Henrique Capriles Radonski, with this move. It established him as a born-again hero, still committed to his role of delivering Venezuela’s poor from the caprice of the rich. From there to victory was a short distance to cover for Venezuela’s most accomplished politician. Like all incumbent leaders, Mr Chavez had in his power the State machinery as well as the ability to bestow largesse on sections he had already benefited by directing the enormous revenues from oil into education, health and housing. Naturally, he used these privileges to his best advantage.
Mr Chavez has won more than 54 per cent of votes — a narrower win than that of 2006, but a decisive one, given the odds he had to face this time. This is because Mr Radonski, unlike the previous contenders, has managed to tap into the disaffection among the people, even deep inside Mr Chavez’s support base in rural areas, against rising prices and the increasing crime rate. He also has the backing of the middle class, who suffer the ill effects of the regime’s currency control and corruption, apart from the inherent sympathy of the rich for a member of the class. Mr Chavez knows that his win does not necessarily neutralize the headway Mr Radonski has been able to make. Working doggedly on these points, Mr Radonski can win the state governorships in the coming elections in December and make life miserable for Mr Chavez. A greater socialism that scares away investors and ruins Venezuela’s oil productivity could also be damaging. But then, Mr Chavez is a survivor. He may learn to balance the grand ideals of his Bolivarian revolution with the compulsions of time and defy political death once again.