Venezuela's recent presidential election campaign exposed deep political rifts in a country where President Hugo Chavez had grown accustomed to landslide victories. Although the opposition movement failed to strike a decisive blow to his hold on power in the October vote, nearly half the electorate embraced its narrative of a country in deep trouble. Economic mismanagement by the Chavez administration has brought growing criminal violence, inflation and a lack of food security, leading many to question the wisdom of his leftist ‘chavismo’ movement.
A newly formed coalition representing approximately 30 opposition parties, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, mounted the most concerted effort to unseat Chavez since he took office in 1999. Led by Henrique Capriles, the energetic governor of Miranda state, the opposition made important strides, narrowing Chavez's lead from 26 percentage points in 2006 to 11 in the 7 October poll, claiming 44% of the vote versus Chavez's 55%.
During his election campaign, Capriles targeted popular concerns over the economy and discontent with the chavista movement, focusing on government mismanagement, corruption and inflation. An explosion at the largest oil refinery in the country in August, which left 41 people dead, gave Capriles further ammunition with which to castigate the government. He also promised to place limits on shipments of cheap oil destined for allied leftist governments such as Cuba, and to improve government efficiency while preserving many social programmes.
After the vote, he dismissed complaints that electoral fraud had taken place in favour of Chavez and announced that he would run again for the governorship of Miranda state in regional elections on 16 December. His decision suggested that he and the wider opposition coalition are waiting for internal divisions within the government and popular discontent over its policies to become more pronounced in the coming months and years.