Chavismo, as a populist and socioeconomic movement, is already stumbling out of the gate after Chavez’s death. Five weeks after, his successor Nicolas Maduro was elected president under a close and contested elections. For one part, the hypothesis of Chavismo without Chavez has been ratified by the narrowest of margins. The second part is that Maduro might have won the elections, but Chavismo has been weakened by the consolidation of the opposition around the leadership of Henrique Capriles.
It would be an understatement to say that Chavez’s leadership has been missed dearly since his last television address in December. He stunted many when he chose Nicolas Maduro over, long thought to be the number two man, Diosdado Cabello. On one side you have Maduro, a radical socialist and a power broker with close ties to the Castros, but he possesses little charisma. On the other side you have Cabello, a nationalist who despises the Castros, but he has more charisma than Maduro and has deep military tides. In a not too distant future these two forces will collide, is only a matter of time.
After last year’s presidential and governors elections victories, Chavismo wanted to catch a dishearten opposition off-guard and quickly called new elections after Chavez’s death. Many, including in the opposition, thought that in the moment of nostalgia, people would overwhelmingly elect Maduro. In the myth created around Chavez, Maduro wasn’t the real candidate; he was the vehicle for Chavismo followers to vote for Chavez.
Nevertheless, Maduro’s shortcomings quickly came into view. Under Chavez’s shadow, his little charisma and no self-earned leadership, it became very clear to all that Maduro was not Chavez. Many errors were committed right after Chavez’s death such as: the embalming of Chavez’s body against his wishes, the devaluation of the national currency, and the assumption that the trust and support of Chavez’s followers would automatically transfer to Maduro.
In the other hand, the opposition quickly regrouped turning the campaign reign to the most successful advisor in Latin America, Juan Jose Rendon. He along with Capriles focused in food shortages, devaluation of the national currency, high inflation and high crime rates. They turned a 9-20 point deficit, according to some polls, into a head to head battle in a matter of weeks.
By election night, it was announced that Capriles had lost the elections 49% to 51% with participation of 80% of the electorate. However, most alarming for Chavismo was that, while participation had remained the same as last year Chavez’s victory of 56% to 44% over Capriles, voters who supported Chavez last year voted for Capriles this time around. This was a remarkable turn of events that few predicted, especially because the campaign only lasted 10 days. If the campaign would have lasted a few more weeks, Chavismo would have been a page in history.