Will Hugo Chávez’s political system collapse?

It seems that President  Hugo Chavez is in very serious condition. How much is the political system he represents in Venezuela based on his personality?

Answers:

Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Professor, Associate Fellow, Chatham House

Chavez has built a political system that is dominated by him personally, but which will not collapse the moment he resigns or dies. He has a loyal following in the armed forces, congress, the media, he energy industry and even the judiciary. Thus, one should not expect any immediate change.

Having said that, the Constitution requires fresh elections within 30 days if he leaves office in the first 4 of his 6 year term. We know that Nicolas Maduro will succeed him and will presumably be the Chavista candidate. One may also assume that Capriles will lead the opposition. It would then be a very close contest.

Markus Schultze-Kraft, Team Leader, Institute of Development Studies

Hugo Chavez, a retired military officer, was first elected president of Venezuela in 1998 and since then has managed to stay in power, winning resounding election victories in 1999, 2006 and 2012. The political regime and system Chavez built in the past 14 years has autocratic characteristics, democratic checks and balances have been weakened. However, throughout his tenure Chavez has been able to maintain the support from sizable sectors of the Venezuelan electorate, not least because of the patronage networks and clientelistic relationships his government and party established with large less affluent and underprivileged groups. This political and socioeconomic process has been led by Chavez himself. It is therefore remarkable that the president recently announced that his foreign minister and close politcal ally, Nicolas Maduro, would be his successor. This move reflects that Chavez’s strength and hold on power is waning due to his serious illness. The president himself is preparing for a Venezuela without Chavez- an unthinkable scenario still two years ago. Whether the transition to a Bolivarian Republic without Chavez will work and play out peacefully remains to be seen, however. It is difficult to imagine that Nicolas Maduro will have the same command over important sectors of the Chavista establishment, including the Bolivarian armed forces, and the Bolivarian masses. He certainly does not have the charisma of Hugo Chavez, but he might turn out to have a strong sense of political calculus. Is there a possibility that Venezuela will witness a replay of the Cuban story, where Fidel Castro handed power to his younger, more cautious and less charismatic brother Raul? This is not to be ruled out, particularily considering the closeness between the regimes in La Havana and Caracas.

Claudia Zilla, Head of Research Division “The Americas”, SWP Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit/German Institute for International and Security Affairs

The political system in Venezuela is very much based in his personality. Chávez is a populist leader as his ruling style is very personalistic and plebiscitary. The division of powers has become fragile, institutions have lost importance. The PSUV is not a highly institutionalized party, it is rather a weak political actor than was established in a top-down process, its creation was Chávez’ decision. Chávez nomination of his successor may avoid some troubles in case he is prevented to govern, but it does not change much the situation of a one person centered regime, which may lose its column.

Matthew Brown, Reader in Latin American Studies, University of Bristol

The question of how much chavismo relies on its figurehead is one which has exercised much discussion within and outside the regime in recent years. The decision to nominate a preferred successor only after this year’s presidential election seemed to indicate an anxiety that naming one before (i.e., naming anyone, not Sr. Maduro or any of the other candidates) would have detracted from the President’s election campaign.

So yes, Chavez’s populism has relied to a great deal on his own personal popularity.

Nevertheless, his administration has now been in government for over twelve years, and so has accrued a degree of endurance and resilience which probably goes beyond any one individual. His ill health remains a political issue in Venezuela, and the succession / transition at any time in the future would be worth observing. But my feeling is that current notions of representation and participatory democracy will not be easily shifted from the Venezuelan political scene in the near future.

 

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