May 24, 2013
Nail-biting day to the very end
By Carolina Barros
After an interminable day of nail-biting suspense, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) finally anointed Hugo Chávez as the winner last night.
By 4pm the exit polls were starting to pour in, often in collision. Sources close to the Comando Venezuela headquarters of the Henrique Capriles Radonski campaign were giving a three-point edge to the Unity Panel candidate while Chávez’s Comando Carabobo showed the early results as pointing to a dead heat with 49 percent apiece. Was this draw designed to cloak a Chávez defeat? More nail-biting. Half an hour later another exit poll circulated giving a three-point margin to the Bolivarian over the “unitarian.” The atmosphere remained respectful, apart from a group of motor-cyclists reportedly crossing Caracas firing shots in the air. This “motorized gang” (as described by Armando Briquet, the Capriles campaign chief, in a press conference) was clearly with Chávez.
At 1.30pm comandante Chávez voted in the 23 de Enero parish, accompanied by his grandchildren, giving a family air to proceedings. At the ensuing press conference, Chávez looked confident — his entourage included Uruguayan first lady Lucia Topolansky (the wife of President José “Pepe” Mujica), Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, Colombian ex-senator Piedad Córdoba and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.
He ruled out the possibility of anybody succeeding him by saying: “My heir is the people... a collective noun.” He also referred to the fact that yesterday was the 15th election in 14 years as “an excess of democracy.”. Of course, a Yankee reference could not be absent although it was a benevolent one: “It was John Kennedy who told us that if the doors are shut on a peaceful revolution, a violent one will come.” True to his style, he could not help saying that in this election Venezuela had to choose between independence and becoming a colony, repeating: “we are a collective leadership, fortunately we do not depend on just one man.”
Half an hour later, Henrique Capriles voted in Las Mercedes parish while his parents and a brother waited outside. He arrived at the polling-precinct respecting his personal little superstitions — he wore brown shoes and walked the last stretch. He gave his own press conference, pointing out that he had never lost an election (an election between two unbeaten candidates, he said, while adding “my rival may have lost the odd one” in reference to his defeat in the plebiscite of December, 2007). And, as if echoing the previous speech of Chávez, he spoke in collective terms, saying: “Today there are millions of David (as Capriles has been nicknamed for taking on a Goliath) and millions of Bolivars, today we are all heroes of the vote”.
“I aspire to be the president of everybody”, he concluded.
At 5.30pm, just half an hour before the polls closed, the secretary-general of the opposition Unity Panel held a press conference with the first indication of a historic election day: “We know that the turnout topped 75 percent.”
After 6pm the atmosphere changed. Just a few minutes after the polls closed, Armando Briquet, the Comando Venezuela campaign chief, emerged exuding “winner” vibes. The favourable exit polls were tweeted frantically while Briquet repeated: “We’re beating the historic records for turnout.” But he assured everyone that the candidate Capriles would only come out to greet his supporters after the release of the first CNE report (which always insisted that it would not issue its first report until it could count on a “firm” trend). He confirmed that the Venezuela and Carabobo commands were in contact and that they had agreed not to wait for votes abroad (estimated at around 100,000) to be counted before announcing the results.
A poker-faced Jorge Rodriguez, the Chávez campaign chief, then responded.
“It’s the biggest electoral turnout in Venezuelan history”, he assured from the Comando Carabobo before pronouncing those dreaded words: “the election is so close we’ll probably need a recount.”
While we settled in armchairs and ordered food to help pass the long hours until CNE issued the results, Chávez went on the air to request patience and calm from his Bolivarian crimson audience, from the country and the world.
Hours later, the CNE announced Chávez’s victory.