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It’s all about the elections… in October 2007

This week in Washington, I attended a conference on Venezuela’s upcoming Presidential election hosted by Georgetown University. The discussion was mainly focused on whether the opposition will participate in the election, and why some opposition figures may choose to participate while others will not. The consensus was that opponents to Chavez, such as the Accion Democratica (AD), will decline to participate because that party would attract so few votes in a presidential election, that they would expose themselves as a party that only exists on paper, and enjoys little popular support. The opposite holds true for Julio Borges and Primero Justicia. Borges’s campaign is operating full steam ahead, most likely because he thinks he will win more votes in the presidential election than many experts are predicting.

However, Prof. Dan Hellinger of Webster University, a long-time Venezuela scholar and observer of its political scene, offered a distinctly different perspective. He said that the presidential elections in December of this year aren’t likely to tell us much about the state of democracy in Venezuela. He’s looking beyond that point to the local elections scheduled for October 2007. It is in these elections, says Hellinger, that the system Chavistas call “participatory democracy” will truly be tested. Many Venezuelans have been enfranchised during Chavez’s presidency; how will they use their vote? Will the local candidates be elected by acquiring the trust and respect of their constituents, or will they be elected because they were blessed by Chavez?

It’s an important, and long-term, point of view.

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