Is Venezuela a Democracy?

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Opinions about the state of democratic governance in Venezuela during the government of President Hugo Chávez Frías have been polarized. Some critics come close to labeling it a dictatorship while others, his supporters, claim to be restoring a truly democratic regime to Venezuela. Venezuelan society is polarized along political lines and this climate does not help to consolidate liberal democracy. In such a context, it is easy to fall into simplistic, black and white views; however, it is important to seek a more gradual and balanced appreciation of the complex issues at play. There also should be an understanding of how Venezuelans themselves view the state of their democracy. Assessments of the functioning of democracy should also take into account historical and regional contexts.

Free and fair electoral competitions are of course key to democracy, but other important elements to consider include the civilian control of the military, participation rights, and adequate civil and political liberties. These are the minimum requirements for a country to be deemed a liberal democracy. In the case of Venezuela, not all of these requirement are met, making the country a semi-democracy or (as the Freedom House calls it) a Partly Free Country. Venezuela’s Freedom House ranking score for Venezuela was nine out of a possible 14, 2 representing a free, fully democratic country. A semi-democratic system is a system in which it is a possible for the party/ candidate to lose an election but does not meet all the criteria required to be considered a democratic government.

Venezuelans have gone to the polls frequently in recent years, but under an atmosphere of intense polarization. The zero-sum character of the political conflict in Vene...

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...enezuela, and that he continues to enjoy strong popular support. The Latinobarometro survey found that 65 percent of Venezuelans approve of the way in which Chávez is leading the country Interestingly, the opposition has secured important victories, such as the November 24, 2008 electoral success in several state and municipal races The opposition retained power in Zulia, the country’s most populous state, and won crucial races in the capital, Caracas, according to the National Electoral Council. The opposition held onto the two states it won at the last regional elections four years ago and also beat Chávez’s veteran aides in the heavily populated state metropolitan area around Caracas, as well as the mayoralty of the capital . Chávez has taken his acceptance of this defeat as proof of his commitment. He showed this by allowing the opposition to take office.

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