What's Next for Venezuela?

PHOTO: The 58-year-old former military officer Chavez won his fourth consecutive presidential bid Sunday and shows no signs of ballot fatigue.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez got himself reelected to a third term on Sunday, after defeating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a comfortable 10 percent of the vote.

Chávez gained 55 percent of the vote. He has promised to deepen Venezuela's socialist revolution and further the nationalization of key industries.

Despite losing the election, Capriles secured more votes than any of Chávez's previous contenders, with 45 percent support. When he conceaded defeat on Sunday, Capriles warned Chávez that the country is divided in two camps with very different visions of how Venezuela should be run. He asked Chávez to "work for the unity of all Venezuelans."

So what's next for this deeply polarized country? Will democracy erode in Venezuela?

I spoke with a blogger, a professor and a political analyst to get their take on the election result and what it means for the residents of this oil rich nation.

The Blogger

David Smilde is a research fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. He's also running a blog on Venezuelan politics, which is sponsored by this non-profit group.

"The results didn't surprise me at all," Smilde said of Chávez 's victory. Smilde mentioned that in a survey conducted recently by pollster Datanalisis, Chávez obtained a 58 percent job approval rating, so it was natural for his vote tally on Sunday to be within the same range.

"I think the result tells us that the Venezuelan people as a whole, or at least a small majority of them, feel that things have gotten better with Chávez , and that Chávez has done them right," said Smilde, who toured voting centers in rich and poor areas of Caracas on Sunday.

"But there's some fraying around the edges of his [political] project," Smilde added. He mentioned that opposition supporters where much more willing to talk to him about their voting preferences on Sunday, while government supporters seemed to be more reserved and subdued.

"People have a sense that things should've gotten better than where they're at right now," Smilde said, referring to problems like high crime rates and rampant inflation in Venezuela.

Will Chávez push for a socialist state even though he won the election by a smaller margin than in previous contests?

"It's up in the air," said Smilde, who mentioned that during Sunday's acceptance speech Chávez did not talk about controversial projects he has backed in the past, like the implementation of government-financed socialist communes.

Smilde added that Chávez has undergone three cancer operations since last year and may be at a stage of his life where he is contemplating his legacy. He posed the following question:

"Will Chávez try to consolidate what he has done and reconcile Venezuelans, or is he going to turn around and within a couple weeks start the [controversial] push for the communal state?"

The Analyst

Manuel Malaver writes a political column in the Venezuelan news portal, Informe 21. A day before the election he told me that Capriles had a moderate chance of defeating Chávez .

"I was surprised by the result," Malaver said on Monday, adding that he still did not have enough information at hand to explain how Chávez won by a ten percent margin.

Malaver did not believe that this victory margin, which is smaller than the one obtained in previous elections, would deter Chávez from pushing for radical reforms.

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