Since 1989, Chávez and a group of fellow soldiers had worked clandestinely to build the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement. The movement first surfaced in 1992 during a time of riots, strikes, and scandals that were threatening the long-touted stability of the country. Chávez led insurgent troops in a bloody but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Perez government. After the failed coup, he was jailed for two years before being pardoned by President Rafael Caldera. Upon his release in 1994, Chávez visited Cuba and praised President Fidel Castro and "the Cuban way." A charismatic figure and fiery orator, he formed the Polo Patriotico (Patriotic Pole), an alliance of 14 minor parties across a wide political spectrum.
In March 1998, Chávez reappeared on the political scene, mounting a populist campaign that harnessed discontent among ordinary citizens and disadvantaged groups who were angered by the corruption and cronyism of Venezuela's political system. He accused the country's traditional parties of being dishonest, of catering to the elite and to foreign investors, and of mismanagement of the oil revenues. Chávez enjoyed the support of leftist intellectuals and the Fifth Republic Movement, a largely leftist party led by former coup leaders. He also had the backing of nationalists, large landowners, and conservative business leaders in agriculture and manufacturing who hoped he would keep out foreign investors. Among his legions of mostly poor supporters, Chávez is known as El Comandante. At his closing campaign rally, he drew more than 700,000 people, many of whom wore the red parachutist's beret that had become his trademark on the campaign trail.
On 6 December 1998 Chávez became the youngest elected president in Venezuelan history, defeating his closest challenger, Henrique Salas Romer, a Yale-educated economist, by 56.5% to 39.5%. Immediately after taking office, Chávez delivered on one of his electoral promises and held an election for a constitutional assembly. The assembly immediately began to write a new Constitution. Because Chávez's election also brought about the end of the traditional political parties, Chávez supporters won an overwhelming majority of the seats in the constitutional assembly. Logically, the new Constitution was custom-made for Hugo Chávez and suits perfectly well his political ambitions. After its adoption in 1999, Chávez ran for a new 6-year term in the presidential elections held in July 2000, easily defeating Francisco Arias by 57.5% to 39.5%. The Venezuelan Constitution allows for a plebiscite to be held during the midterm election. If the president is defeated, he must resign from office.