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Venezuela’s Election Gives Both Sides Something to Celebrate

Fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s Socialist Party won a majority of the 165-seat National Assembly in Sunday’s election, but not a two-thirds majority that would have allowed it to pass major legislation unencumbered.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition celebrated its one-third seat win and claimed it secured a majority of the popular vote as well. If confirmed, the result would deal a blow to the populist Chavez and give a morale boost to the opposition heading into the country’s 2012 presidential election.

New election rules, passed in 2009, give more weight to votes in rural districts, which tend to support Chavez, than in heavily populated areas such as Caracas, which tend to favor the opposition.

Campaign chief of Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Aristóbulo Istúriz, said, “We went for two-thirds and weren’t able to reach it. But we’re the majority,” according to the Wall Street Journal. By midday Chavez had yet to speak publicly, though he sent messages on Twitter, including: “We’ve obtained a solid victory sufficient to continue deepening Bolivarian and Democratic Socialism.”

But the opposition cheered the support it received. Ramon Guillermo Avelado, head of the opposition coalition, told Venevision television, “Clearly a majority of the country has expressed itself for a change in the National Assembly. That is a win for all Venezuelans, not just for those who voted for our candidates,” quoted the Washington Post.

Rachel Jones, reporting from Caracas for GlobalPost, said even though polls showed a tight race going into Sunday’s vote, there was still some surprise over the results.

“A lot of people expected Chavez’s government to retain a two-thirds majority, so there was a certain element of surprise that the opposition was able to gain a third of the assembly,” she said in a telephone interview. “The big challenge for the opposition in the 2012 elections will be to come up with a leader who can rival Chavez in popularity and at this point they still don’t have that.”

Chavez remains solidly popular in the country due to a slew of socialist programs from providing subsidized food to free health care, said Jones. “The feeling of just being involved in the political process, which is something the poor sector of Venezuela never really had before is a huge boon to his popularity,” she said.

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