What of Chavismo?

Venezuela stands on the cusp of political instability as its president, Hugo Chavez, continues to battle cancer after a six-hour surgery on Tuesday. Chavez has been at the helm of the "pink tide", the ascent to power of centre-left governments in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua among other Latin American countries. He has also systematically concentrated political power in his own hands, subjecting what was one of Latin America's richest and most enduring democracies to rule at his whim including rewriting the constitution when he came to power in 1999.

For the first time since Chavez was diagnosed with pelvic cancer in June 2011, he has conceded that his days in office are numbered and selected Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor. Unfortunately, the transition will not be that simple. Chavez is poised to begin his third six-year term as Venezuela's president on January 10, 2013. Venezuela's constitution stipulates that if the president does not complete four years in office, fresh elections must be held within 30 days. Since it is uncertain whether Chavez will even be well enough to attend his inauguration after a "complex, difficult and delicate" operation, elections may be inevitable. Although Chavez defeated the more moderate Henrique Capriles in October, Capriles fought hard and is popular enough to defeat any other candidate of Chavez's United Socialist Party, according to opinion polls.

After 14 years of Chavismo, the president's revolutionary movement that combines populist nationalism and 21st century socialism, Venezuela faces a slowing economy and rampant crime. While income inequality has decreased under Chavez, the rich and poor alike face daily frustrations, owing to the country's crumbling basic infrastructure. He has squandered the country's vast oil reserves, using its revenues for mismanaged social programmes, and providing his allies with subsidised oil. As its charismatic leader battles for his life in Havana, Venezuela faces a turbulent future.

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