For Maduro, Chávez’s legacy is summed up in one word: patria (fatherland). If Maduro, a former union leader and then a loyal foreign minister in the previous government, follows the Chávez playbook in 2012’s elections, he will tamp down the Leftist discourse and situate his platform in the nationalist sentiments chavismo cultivates and deploys. This will include nationalism’s jingoistic side—depicting opponent Capriles as an inauthentic Venezuelan, a piti-yanqui.
For Capriles, the relevant part of the Chávez legacy is the social question. During the campaign, Capriles ran with a center-right party slate but as a center-left politician promoting a future of progress. He proposed deepening Chávez’s social policies, but still lacked populist credibility. After Chávez, will Capriles continue the same strategy or change gears? Can he frame Maduro, a man who lacks the charisma Chávez used so effectively to link nationalist and ideological rhetoric, as an out of touch bureaucrat?
Any strategy must make immediate impact because the convoking of elections in thirty days means little time for either candidate to counterpunch. As the successor to a hugely popular, deceased president, the new leader of Venezuela’s most powerful political party (The United Socialist Party of Venezuela), and the man with the power of incumbency, Maduro has the upper hand. But he is also untested electorally and could stumble, and Capriles will be right there behind him.
Political campaigns are not ideal moments for national reconciliation. Chávez was as polarizing a figure as any in Latin America, and thus reconciliation for Venezuelans may be far off. Still, the death of Chávez presents Venezuela with a familiar problem: preventing the firestorm with its capacity for problem solving and compromise.
Michael McCarthy is a professorial lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Victor Soares/ABr. CC BY 3.0.