President of Venezuela needs to fill big shoes

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Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as Venezuela’s president last Friday to replace Hugo Chavez. Chavez, the former Venezuelan president who died in March from cancer, handpicked his former vice president and long-time ally as his successor.

Maduro, like Chavez, came from a working-class background. A former bus driver who became a union trade leader and politician in Chavez’s cabinet, Maduro campaigned on the platform of continuing Chavez’s legacy — a commitment to Venezuela’s lower classes and toward crafting Venezuela into a South American socialist state. In fact, much of Maduro’s electoral success is due to Maduro’s affiliation with Chavez, who retains a great deal of popularity among Venezuelans. Maduro’s campaign stressed that a vote for Maduro would be like a vote for the former president.

However, looking ahead, Maduro cannot simply rely on his association with Chavez to succeed. Although Chavez still has ardent supporters, his popularity in the past few years has been declining mainly due to the state of the Venezuelan economy.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but during Chavez’s reign, there was a huge surge in government spending, contributing to an increase in Venezuela’s national debt and an increase in inflation. Furthermore, Venezuela currently has a very controlled economy. Chavez nationalized many companies in Venezuela and maintained price and currency controls, which have deeply weakened the private sector, according to Yahoo! News.

However, in his campaign, Maduro did not propose initiatives that would tackle these economic issues, instead focusing on social issues such as crime and corruption. Furthermore, his economic initiatives could contribute to higher inflation, such as raising the monthly minimum wage by up to 45 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Maduro’s mandate is also particularly weak; in an extremely close election, Maduro only won 50.6 percent of the vote while facing opposing candidate Henrique Capriles. The opposition has even questioned the legitimacy of Maduro’s victory, placing further doubts on whether Maduro truly has the popularity needed to carry him through.

Succeeding the divisive, charismatic, and forceful Chavez, Maduro has big shoes to fill, and it is unclear whether he has the foresight, tenacity, or charisma to pull himself through the harder times. Maduro must maintain a difficult balancing act between politics, pragmatism, and popularity if he wants Venezuela, and his presidency, to succeed.