Poll setback for Venezuela's Chavez

President's socialist party retains parliamentary majority but opposition wins enough seats to challenge his power.

    Voters have chosen the ruling socialist party of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez as the winner of the country's parliamentary elections.

    However, while his party has won the most seats, strong opposition gains have robbed it of enough votes to easily pass new laws.

    The AFP news agency reported, quoting the Venezuelan electoral council, that the ruling party won at least 90 out of 165 seats in the National Assembly in Sunday's vote, with up to 61 seats going to the opposition.

    Having thus managed to deny the Chavez camp a two-thirds majority, his opponents will have more clout in trying to put a check on his sweeping powers.

    Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, said it is a huge setback for Chavez and a dream come true for his opponents.

    "Although the ruling party did get the simple majority, the popular vote went to the opposition," she said.

    Changed political landscape

    "Supporters of president Chavez tried to put on a very brave face this morning but they recognise the political scenario here has totally changed."

    However, Colin Harding, a Latin American analyst, pointed out that Chavez will still have his current, "huge majority" until January.


               Chavez's rule polarises Venezuela

    "I suspect during that time, he will push through measures to actually sidetrack congress, " Harding told Al Jazeera. "I mean, if the opposition have got a big representation in the national assembly, he will push through measures to give more power to what they call communal councils."

    If taken, these measures will diminish the powers of the national assembly. This, said Harding, has been the case in Cuba and Nicaragua.

    Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro, reporting from Caracas on Monday, said that the vote count took longer than expected because "there were so many tight races across the country".

    He quoted Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, secretary-general of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Table, as saying that Venezuela will awake "with a new national assembly that has a plurality for the first time in five years."

    The parliamentary elections are being seen as a crucial test of support for Chavez in lead-up to a presidential ballot in 2012.

    The opposition had mounted a determined challenge to try to break his monopoly of power in the National Assembly for the first time in his nearly 12-year presidency.


    Margarita Lopez Maya, an opposition candidate, told Al Jazeera she stopped supporting Chavez because he turned away from democracy.

    "After his re-election in 2006 he changed from a political project of participative democracy into what he calls a socialist model for the 21 century," Maya said.

    "That is more of a personality status and a totalitarian model. We are trying to build a non-polarised alternative for Venezuelans."

    Chavez has had near total control since opposition parties boycotted the last legislative elections in 2005, citing concerns about possible irregularities.

    He is hailed by supporters as a champion of Venezuela's poor communities. But he is denounced by critics as a dictator.

    Al Jazeera's Mauro said the loss of the two-thirds parliamentary majorty does not equal a defeat for the Venezuelan leader.

    "Hugo Chavez remains enormously popular among a large segment of the Venezuelan population. He does still have an outright majority in the national assembly," he said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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