April 11, 2013

AN INTREPID Venezuelan tweeter has been keeping track of the number of times that Nicolas Maduro, the country’s interim president, has mentioned Hugo Chavez on television or radio since the caudillo’s death on March 5. On Thursday, the count stood at 7,102. In his abundant homages, Mr. Maduro — who hopes to win an election Sunday to fulfill the remainder of Mr. Chavez’s six-year term — has likened the dead leader to Jesus Christ, accused the United States of infecting him with the cancer that killed him and claimed that he took the form of a bird and appeared before Mr. Maduro while he was praying. As a reminder, sometimes Mr. Maduro spices his speeches with literal tweets.

That Mr. Chavez’s would-be successor, a 50-year-old former bus driver manifestly lacking in charisma, would go to extreme lengths to link himself to his mentor is no surprise. Nor, unfortunately, is the way the government is managing the election. In violation of the Venezuelan constitution, Mr. Maduro was declared president after Mr. Chavez died, giving him far-reaching powers over spending and state media. He regularly orders national television simulcasts of addresses in which he promises to solve the country’s massive problems and hurls slanders at opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski.

The armed forces and the state oil company, Venezuela’s two biggest institutions, have unabashedly mobilized behind Mr. Maduro. The get-out-the-vote campaign is headed by the chief executive of the oil company, while the defense minister has promised “unrestricted support” to the incumbent. The national election commission, whose chair has appeared in public wearing Chavez regalia, has ignored complaints about these obvious misuses of state resources, just as the sworn-to-Chavez supreme court has repeatedly enabled blatant constitutional violations.

Mr. Capriles’s campaign, in contrast, has been allocated four minutes of air time a day on the multiple state television channels. His representatives have been denied access to the government’s vote-tallying center on election night. Meanwhile, the government has rejected requests from the European Union and Organization of American States (OAS) to deploy election-monitoring teams.

Unsurprisingly, polls show that Mr. Maduro will win this grossly one-sided contest. If by some chance he does not, the regime is unlikely to accept the results: Mr. Maduro himself recently declared that the response would be a “popular uprising.”

Disturbingly, Latin American democracies and the Obama administration appear ready to legitimate Mr. Maduro’s takeover, despite the OAS’s democracy charter, a treaty that calls for regional action in cases where constitutions are violated or elections rigged.

Mr. Maduro, however, may come to rue his expected triumph. Mr. Chavez left behind an extraordinary mess, including soaring inflation, severe shortages of power and consumer goods and one of the world’s highest murder rates. Oil exports, which have kept the country afloat, are declining. It’s unlikely that even Mr. Chavez could have won the tolerance of the country’s poor for the harsh economic reckoning that’s coming. Mr. Maduro surely will not.