Venezuela update

I still can’t get the Venezuelan electoral commission’s website to load, but Wikipedia now has updated figures that cite it as the source. They show leftist acting president Nicolás Maduro winning with a margin of about 273,000 votes: 50.78% against 48.95% for the right’s Henrique Capriles. Four others (not five as I said the other day – my mistake) collected the remaining 0.26%.

That’s definitely close, but it’s not super close. It’s certainly much too big a margin to be changed by finding the sort of more-or-less random, run-of-the mill errors that you’d normally pick up in a recount. For comparison, in this year’s Italian election the centre-left won by only about 125,000 votes or about 0.35%.

But Venezuela, of course, is not Italy: it’s much more polarised and with a much less well-entrenched democratic culture. So Capriles has refused to concede defeat and opposition demonstrations have led to violence in which seven people were killed. Maduro accused the opposition of attempting to stage a coup.

Last night Capriles cancelled an opposition rally planned for today and professed himself “ready to open a dialogue with the government so that the crisis can be ended in the coming hours,” according to the BBC. But despite the occasional conciliatory remark from the government, it’s hard to see how the gap between the two sides could be bridged.

The opposition alleges irregularities of various sorts: it claims “thousands of cases of poll violations, including the use of fake identification and the intimidation of polling station volunteers.” But there is no sign of hard evidence for these claims, and in any case they are not the sort of thing that a recount would be likely to reveal.

The United States, however, is backing Capriles. The State Department‘s spokesman, while apparently failing to understand the difference between a recount and an audit, criticised Venezuela’s process and argued that “resolving these irregularities would have engendered more confidence in the Venezuelan people in the quality of this vote.” Asked if the US was  ready to recognise the result, he said “we’re just not there yet.”

Fundamentally, the claims of both the opposition and the United States turn on the fact that Venezuela is not the sort of place where one can have confidence in the independence of bodies like the electoral commission. Under Hugo Chávez the lines between party and state were blurred; there was no sense of state institutions maintaining political neutrality. It’s not surprising that neither government nor opposition feels there is any common ground between them.

As Maduro prepares to take office in his own right, that’s the perception he needs to address if the deep divisions in his country are to be overcome.

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