Commentary: Chavez may lose even if his party wins

Why wait until the day after Sunday's legislative elections in Venezuela for an analysis? Argentine columnist Carolina Barros asked a few days ago. We already know the results: yet another win for President Hugo Chavez, she wrote.

Are she and other foreign observers right in predicting that Chavez will win, thanks to a fraudulent electoral process? Or can the opposition surprise us with an upset victory, as it did in a 2007 constitutional referendum that would have given Chavez even greater powers?

Barros' column in The Buenos Aires Herald argues, accurately, that Venezuela's Chavez-controlled National Electoral Board has created electoral districts in such a way that it would be almost impossible for the opposition to win a majority in the 165-seat National Assembly, Venezuela's unicameral Congress.

Indeed, thanks to new electoral rules, pro-Chavez states enjoy much greater congressional representation than anti-Chávez states. As Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon said at last week's The Miami Herald/World Bank Americas Conference, to elect one single congressman it will take only 20,000 votes in the sparsely populated pro-Chavez state of Amazonas, while it will take nearly 400,000 votes in the densely populated opposition-majority state of Zulia.

Thus, the opposition could win the popular vote, but Chavez would still have a majority in the National Assembly.

In addition, Chavez controls much of Venezuela's television time, thanks to outright censorship, including the 2007 closing of the independent RCTV television network, intimidation of media companies through judicial actions against their owners, and financial help through pro-government advertising.

To read the complete column, visit www.miamiherald.com.