Hope and uncertainty in Venezuela ahead of vote

The memory of Hugo Chavez looms large as Venezuelans prepare to go to the polls in a vote that could dent chavismo.

A man looks to the sky during the closing rally of Venezuela's ruling party [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]
A man looks to the sky during the closing rally of Venezuela's ruling party [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

On Sunday, as Venezuelans vote in parliamentary elections, there is a real chance that, for the first time in 16 years, chavismo – the political ideology espoused by the late President Hugo Chavez and continued by his successor, President Nicolas Maduro – could lose its grip on the Venezuelan National Assembly.

On Thursday, each side held the closing events of their campaigns – at opposite ends of the capital, Caracas.

In the west of the city, the Great Patriotic Pole, an electoral alliance that brings together the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and other parties that are close to the government, marked the occasion with Venezuelan folk music.

In the east, the Bureau of the National Unit, a bloc of opposition parties, closed their campaign to the rhythm of pop and rock music.

The speeches may have been different, but the crowds gathered at each site shared similar feelings: hope, uncertainty and expectation.

‘Remembering Chavez’

Fans featuring the face of Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan leader, for sale during the ruling party’s closing campaign rally in Caracas [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

“I feel like it’s going to be close, it is very even. But I want the revolution to win. That’s why I’m here,” said Edgar Gonzalez, who wore a red shirt featuring a well-known drawing of Chavez’s eyes.

Singing and moving to the music, he spoke of the continued importance of Chavez, who died from cancer in March 2013, to the Venezuelan people. He is the “heart of the people”, he said.

“I am here because of him, because of his memory, because [Maduro, the current president] is not the same.”

A man stands in the crowd during the closing rally of the ruling party [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

A few metres away, Damelis Isturiz is wearing a shirt from the October 2012 presidential campaign – the last in which Chavez participated. He is feeling optimistic.

“I’m sure that on Sunday we will have a complete victory. The revolution is here to stay.”

The opposition will not win, he said, because the “people will vote with [their] conscience”.

“The mobilisation on the street is tangible. That the revolutionary forces are a mass mobilisation of the people with all the revolution’s candidates is palpable,” said Alberto Aranguibel, a political scientist and supporter of the ruling party.

“The opposition is very poor, meagre, even if they are referred to as as a national call. Not even they can explain why people do not go [out on to the streets for them].”

A group of government supporters gather in front of a Chavez doll during the closing rally [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

Accompanied by the traditional sounds of Venezuela, the Great Patriotic Pole candidates took to the stage. 

Maduro addressed the crowd. “I ask the people to be most loyal to the legacy of Hugo Chavez,” he said.

References to the late leader filled speeches, songs and campaign posters.

His popularity today continues to tower over that of his successor, whose had, according to polls, fallen to around 20 percent earlier this year.

And this is one of the reasons why political consultant Edgar Gutierrez believes that the opposition, despite seemingly meeting all the criteria for failure, might just be successful.

“They barely have financing, they have no spaces in which to communicate, they have organisational problems and key leaders are imprisoned,” he said. “Still, they have more chances of winning.”

And this is, in part, because “the ruling party is going into the election with its worst levels of popularity and without its fundamental leader, Chavez.”

‘I cannot take more of this’
Opposition supporters wait for the closing rally of its campaign to begin in Caracas [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

In the eastern part of the city, Ana Correa waved a yellow flag.

“I want change. I want to see my country move forward. I cannot take more of this government,” she said.

She is tired of queues and insecurity. But she also feels uncertain about what will happen on December 6.

“We’re used to losing. Hopefully not this time,” she said.

“It seems the Unity Table [the opposition bloc] will win, but we must be cautious,” explained Nicmer Evans, a political analyst.

“If it wins, it won’t be because of its success, or [because] of its candidates, but because of the failures of the people within government.”

A couple dances during an opposition rally in Caracas [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]

Ramon, who preferred not to give his last name, stood away from the bustle. He said he felt weariness and discontent.

“No one can stand this economic crisis any more,” he added.

In the past year, Venezuela has suffered shortages of commodities such as rice, maize flour, toilet paper and shampoo.

The government attributes it to an “economic war” waged by businesses and those on the right. The opposition blames it on government inefficiency. 

Now Venezuelans are waiting to see whether frustration with such economic hardships or the enduring appeal of chavismo will win out on Sunday.
An opposition supporter grips a crucifix as she listens to a speech at an opposition rally [Alejandro Cegarra/Al Jazeera]
Source : Al Jazeera


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