Red Dawn No More: true democracy dawns in Venezuela
“It’s a new dawn,
It’s a new day,
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good.”
So good, in fact, I couldn’t stop crying.
Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks as I looked out from our terrace over Caracas, a city nestled in a valley that is bordered at one end by the Ávila mountains, where the Andes trail off to an earthbound death that protects this city from the searing heat of the coast. This morning, my beloved homeland, the city from which I felt cruelly torn as a child, rested peacefully in its cradle of tropical green. More peace than any of us had dared hope. And yet there it was: hope -- incarnate, beautiful, calm.
Renowned for its violence and a murder rate allegedly four times that of Baghdad, Caracas and the rest of Venezuela seem to have finally grown up and accepted mature democracy against nearly insurmountable odds.
Yesterday’s elections were for the entire 165 representatives in the National Assembly (like a Congress or Parliament) as well as 12 representatives to the Latino Parliament (think European Parliament) that is based in Panamá.
Prior to the elections, there was outrage that the game was rigged. Redistricting by the Chávez-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) gave disproportionate representation to rural, sparsely-populated chavista areas, so that even a popular majority would not translate to a majority of representation in the National Assembly.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Table of Democratic Unity (MUD), so named because the candidates were chosen by consensus at a roundtable (think Knights of the Roundtable minus the swords), got 52% of the popular vote and only slightly over a third of the seats in the National Assembly.
Outrageous, unfair and intolerable? Yes. But very far from defeat.
As per the latest estimates, of the 165 seats, Chávez’s allies won 95 seats, the MUD opposition got 61, the PPT (Homeland for All, which used to side with Chávez but now opposes him) got 2 seats, there is 1 independent indigenous representative (i.e., unaffiliated with any party) and 6 seats remaining to to be decided.
Considering the National Assembly was single-handedly dominated by Chávez as a result of opposition abstention from a 2005 election they considered rigged, this is a huge blow to Chávez.
Without his avidly sought-after goal of 110 representatives, Chávez’s allies can no longer single-handedly appoint Supreme Court judges, the Attorney General, the Public Defender, the Comptroller General, the members of the National Electoral Commission (CNE, who run the elections and count the votes) or indeed approve any laws without reaching a consensus with the members of the other parties.
Hey, now the parties have to work together just like in a real democracy.
Never one to accept defeat gracefully, however, Chávez said in an uncharacteristically quiet manner: “We have obtained a solid victory, enough to continue deepening Bolivarian socialism and democracy.”
He can pretty much ram through anything he wants in the next three months until the new National Assembly takes its place, but short of dissolving the National Assembly, which would cause an outright violent revolution, he’s gotta lump whatever the new one hands him -- and all indications are that they’re not gonna play ball with him (to use a favorite Chávez allegory).
But beyond all the electoral practicalities and political implications is the incredible psychic and spiritual impact on a people so long torn by hatred and distrust in a near civil war atmosphere fomented by President Chávez himself, who daily went on national television urging his followers to throw Molotov cocktails and “demolish the opposition” (this last nugget he said only this week). Indeed, in the 11 years under Chávez Venezuelans have died at a rate tantamount to a civil war: nearly 140,000 shot, a tripling of murders and an octupling of kidnappings.
But this morning, all of that evaporated.
Yes, there were 900 claims of intimidation by government officials at polling stations and many tales of malfunctioning voting machines, but all in all, the sun rose on a new country. One that has attained greater equality in representation without violence, without riots, without coups. Despite violence, repression and electoral manipulation, Venezuelans pulled together and formed a new country that increasingly speaks for all of them.
My people have tasted hope, victory and unity, and they won’t easily forget it.
God bless Venezuela.
Come on 2012!