Venezuela’s Socialists Campaign as Reformists as Support Slips
(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s Socialist Party candidates used to be easy to identify. Their campaigns were painted revolutionary red and the ever-present watchful eyes of the late Hugo Chavez printed on shirts, hats and billboards posed a prominent reminder that he was always watching. Speeches were full of anti-imperialist rhetoric and vows to help the poor.
But ahead of Sunday’s regional elections, several government candidates for governor and mayor mounted campaigns that would have been barely recognizable to the Chavismo of years past. They ditched the red for blues, greens and yellows, downplayed their association with Chavez, and talked up capitalist policies.
It’s an attempt to lure and confuse the electorate, further weaken a floundering opposition, and paint a new face on a movement that lost its appeal for many disenchanted followers as the economy crumbled, leaving more than 90% of the population living in poverty, according to a recent university survey.
“It is a rebranding of the Socialist Party to capitalize on sectors that have been disaffiliating from the Chavista project itself, to give it a more palatable, moderate and more youthful image, aimed at a population that did not know Chavismo in 2003,” said Javier Biardeau, a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas who studies Chavismo. “It is a change of image and identity.”
To be sure, President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s hand-picked successor, still rails against imperialism and for the revolution. Government candidates are likely to emerge from Sunday’s vote with the vast majority of the offices, for governor, mayor and municipal council. But Maduro is deeply unpopular, with only 14.7% of the population approving of the job he’s done, according to Caracas pollster Datanalisis.
With opposition parties running for the first time since 2017, candidates affiliated with the government adapted their campaigns and, in some cases, even ran under the names of parties that formerly were part of the opposition. The government stripped those parties of their tickets and turned them over to loyalist politicians.
The campaigns of at least nine government candidates for governor dropped the traditional Socialist symbols, according to a review by Bloomberg. Hector Rodriguez, a government candidate running for re-election in the state of Miranda, tried to appeal to the opposition and independents in his campaign closing speech, promising to “correct what needs to be corrected.”
“You are voting for a governor that is not going to waste his time fighting, that is going to dedicate himself to improving the economy, industry, and generate jobs,” he told a crowd, donning a casual, light-green shirt.
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