The soon-to-close electoral race for the presidency of Venezuela between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski will certainly be remembered as one of the most fascinating campaign periods in this country’s recent political history.
On one hand, the race has been silently colored by the uncertainty that surrounds Chávez’ health. On the other, it has been marked by a series of unpredictable events that have intensified a complex and divisive political climate.
But in the midst of this bitterly-fought campaign, Chávez scored what should have been a major political victory for his administration: on July 31, he managed to secure Venezuela’s formal admission to Mercosur, the largest trading bloc in South America. Venezuela has already sent its first "Mercosur shipment" to Uruguay, but the bulk of future commerce will follow a set of rules that are currently being negotiated.
Despite its potential importance for Venezuela’s economic future, the electoral impact of Venezuela’s admission to Mercosur was surprisingly insignificant. The news was splashed across headlines and became the topic of opinion pieces and conversations. But Venezuela’s formal admission to Mercosur did not tangibly represent a major boost for Chávez’ candidacy. Why might this have been the case?
Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.