Venezuela went to the polls last Sunday supposedly to elect new state governors and mayors. In reality the election was a confidence vote in left wing president Hugo Chavez.
Every election poster for Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) showed candidates together with the president.
PSUV candidates won around 60 percent of the popular vote, and 17 out of the 22 states. Around two thirds of Venezuelans voted.
There were, however, some very revealing results.
In Miranda and Carabobo, two key states, candidates close to Chavez lost to the right. And in the Greater Caracas mayoral election a right wing politician beat a respected left wing candidate.
The campaign highlighted two opposing trends. On the one hand, the grassroots of society – the poor, the workers, and much of the lower middle class – still see Chavez as the champion of their cause. On the other hand, the process of change has not advanced in the way that was hoped for.
The new education and health programmes have been successful, but they have also been patchy and partial. Meanwhile, rubbish is piled high in city streets and there is a general fear of crime that has been encouraged by the right.
However, the right is not really in a position to challenge Chavez. Instead, the threat to the Bolivarian revolution comes from within.
Corruption is a widespread problem within the Chavez government. Public funds have been diverted away from social programmes and inflation is far higher than the official rate of 20 percent.
All of this has created a discontent among the grassroots activists. Their support for Chavez is unconditional, but the election exposed many tensions.
The selection of candidates was conducted from above and genuine rank and file candidates were marginalised.
As a result the PSUV was seen to back candidates well known for their corruption.
This new Chavista bureaucracy has little interest in advancing the socialist cause. The lost governorships were a warning shot from the grassroots.
Venezuela has escaped many of the effects of recession so far. However, oil revenues are a major source of funding for social programmes. But oil prices are falling fast and many programmes are being called into question.
The Chavez government will face a very clear choice in the months to come – to protect the upper middle classes and Venezuela’s capitalists while shielding those in government, or to turn people’s power from rhetoric into reality.