50.8 Percent of the Official Vote Enough to Impose Cuba-Style Dictatorship in Venezuela?

Hugo Chavez's successor promises to come down with a "hard hand"


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This weekend, Nicolas Maduro won a hotly contested election to replace Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela. For fourteen years, Chavez oversaw a program of subordinating the Venezuelan state to his socialist party, culminating in the mobilization of the army to secure victory for Maduro. His margin of victory against Henrique Capriles, who ran against Chavez last year, was officially about 300,000 votes, or 1.8 percent. The Capriles campaign says its own recount indicates a 300,000 vote margin in their favor, and Capriles presented his allegations of voter fraud, which include that:

— Government supporters forced Capriles' observers out of 283 polling places, threatening them with guns in some instances. There were 722,983 votes cast in those polling places, and the lack of witnesses allowed the possibility of fraud, including double-voting.

— Government backers on motorcycles, traveling in menacing packs, turned pro-Capriles voters away from the polls.

— There were 3,535 damaged voting machines, representing 189,982 votes.

— Voting rolls included 600,000 dead people.

— An unspecified number of votes were recorded for people whose official birth dates would make them 100 to 120 years old.

— In 1,176 of the 39,319 voting machines, Maduro got more votes than Chavez had in the October presidential election even though Chavez was far more popular and won nationally by a far bigger margin.

— Maduro supporters held get-out-the vote campaigns at 421 polling stations in violation of election laws prohibiting partisan material at voting centers.

The government has blamed violence during protests that erupted in the country after Sunday's election on the opposition, with Maduro promising to come down on the country with a "hard hand" and accusing Capriles of trying to plan a coup (Maduro's predecessor, Chavez, led a hilariously disastrous coup attempt in the 90s). For his part Capriles canceled a major demonstration today, saying the government would use it to try to provoke more violence.

At the Caracas Chronicles, Francisco Toro explains the post-Chavez Cubafication of his country:

Chávez's extremism, his dismal vow to turn opponents into polvo cosmico , stayed largely – mostly – at the level of rhetoric. Venezuela has dozens of political prisoners, not hundreds or thousands. Dissent was repressed sporadically and selectively, rather than systematically and comprehensibly. The result was something I've written about constantly since 2002: a yawning gap between extremism in speech and moderation in practice that was the defining mark of the Chávez era, and a constant driver of opposition paranoia and government dreams of final revenge…

Maduro doesn't have any of the assets that allowed Chávez to make Cold Civil War viable over a period of many years. He doesn't have the charisma. He doesn't have the personal authority. And he doesn't have the money. He doesn't have the luxury that those assets extended to Chávez of leaving the underlying tension unresolved. He has to resolve it. And that, basically, is what we're witnessing this week.

Any excuse was going to be good enough for Maduro to try to bring Venezuela to something much closer to the actual Cuban model of dictatorial control. For all his elaborate guarantees of representing continuity, what we've been seeing this week is something far more radical than anything Chávez ever tried to institute in his lifetime. Henrique Capriles merely provided one pretext, but any other would have been just as good.

We are, in other words, where Iran was soon after the 2009 election.

As the campaign to pin seven deaths during protests on the opposition begins, Toro relates that Capriles and a key ally already have arrest warrants issued against them, something the government refuses to comment on.

It's democracy in action.