While Venezuela may rejoice the fact that Nicolas Maduro, the late Hugo Chavez’s protégé, has won the election, the margin of victory is indeed a cause for concern. Maduro had clearly been riding the sympathy wave unleashed by the death on 5 March of the charismatic leader, who had made it his life’s mission to consolidate ‘socialism of the 21st century,’ not only in his own country, but within the wider reaches of Latin America. Declaring a political, emotional and even spiritual bond with the deceased leader, Maduro has managed to scrape through, but he has barely touched the victory line, with his opponent Henrique Capriles crying foul already. But there are several challenges that are staring the former trade unionist in the face, and if he has to rise above the paper-thin victory handed out to him by the election verdict, he must come face to face with the problems bogging the country down. Maduro has to address the chronic issues of rising crime, inflation, infrastructural weaknesses, amongst other matters, and he must conjure up every bit of his experience in the government to solve these gaping chasms in Venezuelan public policy.
Despite the downward spiral vis-à-vis the relationship with US, Maduro shouldn’t have summarily expelled the US diplomats from Venezuela in the wake of Chavez’s death, although there have been floating allegations that there might have been foul play leading up to the death of the late Venezuelan president. This melodramatic approach is unlikely to reap benefits for Maduro, as he is not cut out to take forward Chavez’s outrightly confrontational approach, and instead, must follow a pragmatic path of diplomatic dialogues and negotiations with the US. Maduro must also define his own image and try to emerge out of the shadow of the former leader and his mentor. While Maduro has been successful in plugging the holes in Venezuela’s relationship with neighbouring Coulmbia, and has good links with heads of regular allies such as Bolivia, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, he must try to temper down his overtly anti-American sentiments, because the global realities are on shifting grounds. With China and USA, as well as Russia and other major powers including India trying to redefine mutual ties and strategic partnerships, Venezuela must decide on its preferences accordingly. While forging the greater Latin American solidarity might undoubtedly be of supreme significance, what cannot be discounted is the emerging regional and global alliances geared towards an affable internationalism. Despite Chavez’s ultimate endorsement of Maduro before the former’s death, the current president has to tackle the issues at hand in a crafty manner, so as to carve his own niche in the global political fraternity. In addition, the narrow margin of his victory is proof that the opposition would try its best to overturn the years of Chavez’s pro-poor good work, unless Maduro does a balancing act and ensures continuity with the glorious decade of Chavez rule.