I'm a few days late to this, but Juan Nagel has an interesting post at the Foreign Policy blog (certainly no leftist publication) about whether Venezuela is a democracy.
The short answer is yes. Venezuela is a severely dysfunctional, unbelievably corrupt, impossibly dangerous, highly manipulated democracy... but a democracy nonetheless.
One thing we can conclude from the opposition's rapid acknowledgement of the official results is that the votes tallied reflect what the majority wanted. There is no evidence that a significant number of people were somehow pressured into voting for Chávez when, in reality, they wanted to vote for Capriles. The results as tallied reflected the will of the majority.
He goes on:
The Venezuelan way is one where the majority imposes its will on the minority, where minority rights are trampled upon daily, and where the members of the minority are barely even recognized as citizens of their own country.
We may find all this distasteful, but it's what the majority wants. At the end of the day, isn't that what the core of democracy is? Chávez's Venezuela maintains the bare minimum, the very basic trappings of democracy, but that is enough to qualify it as such.
This brings the Federalist Papers 10 to mind with its discussion of factions, which are a "disease." James Madison argued that a republic was the cure.
The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations:
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude. Hence, the number of representatives in the two cases not being in proportion to that of the two constituents, and being proportionally greater in the small republic, it follows that, if the proportion of fit characters be not less in the large than in the small republic, the former will present a greater option, and consequently a greater probability of a fit choice.
If we apply this to the Venezuelan case, then the opposition needs to do better in legislative and gubernatorial elections (though the former can be harder when lines are drawn to favor the PSUV). Boycotting the 2005 legislative elections, of course, opened the doors wide for the majority to do whatever it wanted, and so the minority is still struggling to gain a foothold.