Amid widespread shortages of basic supplies, annual inflation levels over 200 percent, and an economic contraction of 10 percent estimated for this year, the victory of the “punishment” vote was foreseeable. Despite counting with the regime’s full support, the PSUV only secured a third of the seats in the National Assembly.
What struck my attention was that the government immediately conceded defeat and admitted a result that leaves it in a weak position.
This was due to four factors absent in previous elections:
(1) The scale of the vote: it’s relatively easy for the government, which controls the National Electoral Council and its unaudited electronic vote system, to manipulate the results if the difference is narrow. If they gain 45 percent of the vote, they can comfortably turn it into a 51 percent victory. But this type of fraud becomes much more difficult to achieve if pro-government votes are few, as was the case in this election.
(2) The armed forces’ stance: if the government had not held the elections, or if it had ignored the results, it would have likely sparked protests. State repression would have surely followed. As far as we know, the Venezuelan military refused to undertake the dirty task, leaving President Nicolás Maduro in relative isolation.
(3) The regime’s deteriorated international image and the outcome of the elections in Argentina and Guatemala: President Nicolás Maduro’s government has wrecked the economy and sent political opponents to jail without due process, thus making 21st-century socialism a symbol of decadence throughout the region. Such abuses were ignored without criticism in the past, but they are no longer tolerated.
(4) Internal divisions within the ruling party: some PSUV officers think that the country is on the wrong track. They believe Maduro’s policies are unsustainable. Thus, they weren’t willing to ignore an unfavorable outcome.
The Hard Task Ahead
These factors swayed the election in the opposition’s favor. It now holds a powerful weapon to introduce the changes that Venezuela needs desperately. The new anti-regime majority, which holds over two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, has to abandon the Chávez regime’s nefarious socialist policies. The opposition’s qualified majority can even summon a presidential recall referendum. The task ahead, however, will be difficult, because Chavismo hasn’t changed.
Venezuela is still under a totalitarian movement that doesn’t accept the rules of a republic and tramples on individual rights. Maduro won’t step down from power peacefully; his government has too much to lose. If they can, Chavistas will use every available tactic, including violence, to hold on to power and to the privileges they currently enjoy.
The government’s actions will ultimately depend on the unity within its ranks. The opposition’s intelligence and vigor during the next months will also play a vital role. This situation raises many important questions.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which won the election, is an electoral coalition consisting of 18 parties of different ideologies. Some are well organized and count with many supporters. Others, meanwhile, are insignificant. Most of them belong to the so-called center-left, and they tend to yield to the government’s insolence and illegalities very quickly. Aware of the regime’s abuses, they appeased the Chavistas for the last 16 years.
Will this diverse group take the firm stance that the current circumstances require? Will they propose the tough measures necessary to lift Venezuela out of its morass?
The opposition has the advantage at the moment despite its questionable past. They have broad popular support, a favorable international context, and both legal and political resources to get Venezuela on track.
But, as we know, there is no future certainty. We can only hope that a new leadership can end the dictatorship and the penury that has been forced upon Venezuelans.