“There are opposition leaders who might not agree [with a Capriles’ candidacy] and try to support an alternative,” Magdaleno said. “I think it’s premature to say he’s the presidential candidate.”
After years of infighting that played into Chávez’s hands, the main opposition parties joined forces to hold their first-ever joint presidential primary in February, which Capriles won. But after he lost the Oct. 7 race to Chávez by 11 percentage points, some expected the coalition to break apart.
That already seemed to be happening on Tuesday, as two former presidential contenders, former United Nations Representative Diego Arria and Sen. María Corina Machado called the race a debacle.
“This was a monumental defeat,” Arria said in web broadcast. “If the same people who have been committing these errors remain managing our activities and politics we’re going to see the same results.”
Along with Capriles, the only remaining opposition governors are Liborio Guarulla in Amazonas state and Falcón in Lara. Falcón’s ability to draw support from both sides of the political spectrum might also make him a contender, analysts have said.
The PSUV’s showing also puts it on solid ground for a presidential run. Of the 8.8 million votes tallied, the ruling party won 54 percent of them, and the opposition coalition won 42 percent, according to preliminary results released by the National Electoral Council. Third-party and independent candidates won 4 percent.
In a news conference Monday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator for Capriles’ First Justice Party, said the government had abused its power and wasted public funds to win the races.
“One might believe that the government brutally won all the governorships,” he said. “But I see it differently: I don’t think the government won them; they snatched them away…It’s another example of the abuse of power that, in my opinion, will end very soon.”
But voter apathy also played a role. The CNE said only 54 percent of eligible voters turned out, compared to 65 percent in regional elections in 2008 and 80 percent in the presidential race.
Borges said that if the same people who had voted for Capriles two months ago had voted on Sunday, the opposition would have won 18 governors’ posts.
“If you throw in the towel you lose, if you quit fighting you lose, if you get frustrated you lose and if you get depressed you lose,” he said. “We need to fight more than ever right now.”
For government supporters, the lessons were very different. The PSUV has struggled against the perception that it would suffer without their charismatic leader stumping for his candidates. This was the first election in 14 years where Chávez was not actively campaigning. And while the party captured opposition strongholds it didn’t lose a single one of the 15 governorships it was defending.
Jesse Chacón, the former interior minister and the head of the GIS XXI polling firm, said Sunday’s vote was proof that the president’s socialist reforms were popular and enduring.
“In the future, when the president is no longer here,” he told Venevisión television, “Chavismo will still exist.”