Chavez Allies Dominate Venezuela Governor Elections

Chavistas won 20 out of 23 state governorships in Venezuela.

ByABC News
December 17, 2012, 3:07 AM

Dec. 17, 2012— -- Allies of President Hugo Chavez comfortably defeated opposition candidates throughout much of Venezuela, as the South American country held elections for state governors and local legislators on Sunday.

According to results issued by Venezuela's National Electoral Council late on Sunday night, 20 out of Venezuela's 23 states will have Chavista governors for the next four years, while the opposition managed to hang on to governorships in just three states.

The results are somewhat of a setback for the Venezuelan opposition, which previously controlled seven states in the country, and had come relatively close to defeating Chavez in presidential elections held just two months ago.

But the opposition did manage to win one of the most crucial races on Sunday, as former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, was re-elected to the governorship of Miranda state with a 5 percentage point victory margin over Chavez associate Elías Jaua.

For many analysts, the victory in Miranda was a must if Capriles was to maintain any hope of once again running for president of Venezuela.

The 40-year-old lawyer, who has governed Miranda State since 2008, lost to Chavez in October's presidential elections by 10 percent of the vote, the closest that any opposition candidate has come to Chavez since he took office in 1999.

David Smilde, a sociologist and political analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America think tank, said that results elsewhere in the country on Sunday have turned Capriles into "undisputed leader" of the opposition.

In the oil-producing state of Zulia, which is also Venezuela's most populous state, opposition governor Pablo Perez failed to get re-elected, losing to Chavista candidate Francisco Arias Cardenas. Perez had been Capriles toughest challenger in the opposition's presidential primaries earlier this year.

In Tachira, a conservative state in the Andes mountains where Chavez failed to win the popular vote in October, incumbent governor Cesar Perez lost to Chavista candidate Jose Gregorio Vielma by 7 percent of the vote. Perez represented the Christian Democrat Party, COPEI, and was one of several politicians from Venezuela's traditional parties, who was swept away on Sunday.

The elections took place without the presence of president Chavez, who is currently recovering from a delicate cancer operation in Cuba and has not appeared in public for a week.

Venezuelan officials said on Sunday that Chavez was slowly recovering, and was already seeing family members and giving out instructions to his subordinates. But this is the fourth cancer operation for the Venezuelan president in the past 18 months, and there are doubts on whether he will be able to serve out his upcoming six year term. Before heading to Cuba last week, Chavez himself urged voters to back Vice President Nicolas Maduro if "something happened" to him and a new presidential election had to take place.

Although turnout in this election was low, hovering around 50 percent, Smilde argues that news of Chavez's precarious health prompted his supporters to turn out in higher numbers on Sunday, as they attempted to show their support for the Venezuelan president and his socialist revolution.

"The president's illness…provided a margin that pushed [Chavez's] candidates over the top in a number of key races," Smilde said.