Once again, Venezuela has elected Hugo Chavez as its president. That means the country's won six more years of fun tweets, questionable foreign policy and, perhaps, a narrow escape from civil war. In an election that was expected to deliver a record level of voter turnout on Sunday, the socialist leader garnered 54 percent of the vote, while his challenger centrist state governor Henrique Capriles got 45 percent. The results ensure that, by the end of his latest term, Chavez will have held Venezuela's highest office for over 20 years.
Believe it or not, this is the closest presidential election that Venezuala's had in quite some time. In his last campaign for re-election, Chavez roared past his competitor, Manuel Rosales, with 63 percent of the vote compared to Rosales' 37 percent. The election before that was a little bit closer with Chavez winning 60 percent and his competitor, Francisco Arias, grabbing 38 percent. What was special about this election, though, was that a lot of people thought that Capriles actually stood a chance of beating Venezuela's autocratic president. Capriles campaigned on a platform that took aim at widespread corruption in the government and criticized Chavez's foreign policy. And to be honest, things haven't been awesome in Venezuala lately. The murder rate is through the roof. Inflation is at 18 percent. Human Rights Watch has long been saying that Chavez is abusing his power.
Fate was always on Chavez's side, though. Armed with Venezuela's war chest of oil money, he's spent the last few months launching massive giveaway programs that gave Chinese-made appliances to tens of thousands of poor Venezuelan families and promised the construction of 200,000 homes for the country's poor. "Since late last year, Chavez has been spending money like there's no tomorrow, and it's worked," one political analyst told The Los Angeles Times. "Most polls show his approval ratings are up 10 points since then." The government is on track to run a $60-billion deficit this year, by the way.
There was also fear, fear that the country could descend into civil war if Chavez lost. Across the country, there were reports of empty supermarket shelves in the days ahead of the election. People have been stockpiling the staples, from butter and batteries to candles and prepaid phone cards. Chavez, by the way, was the one that warned of a civil war.
All things considered, the losing candidate has been a great sport. While Chavez would take several days off of campaigning in a row, Capriles was hustling all around the country trying to drum up support, and as the empty grocery store shelves proved, people thought it was going to be a close one. Capriles was ready for the worst, regardless. "Whatever the people decide today is sacred," he said just before election day. "To know how to win, you have to know how to lose."