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Time to Start Calling Venezuela’s Democratic Opposition the Majority

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Dec 7, 2015, 3:51 pm
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has suffered a devastating defeat, and his government is trying to mitigate the consequences. (El Periódico Venezolano)

EspañolIn the early hours of Monday, December 7, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the previous day’s congressional election’s preliminary results: the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), an anti-regime coalition, had gained 99 of 167 seats in the National Assembly. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had obtained a mere 46 seats.

The results for the remainder 22 seats, however, have yet to be announced although opposition leaders claim that they count with at least 113 congressmen, enough for a qualified majority. This would allow the MUD to remove Supreme Court magistrates and to convene a constituent assembly.

Without a doubt, this delay is due to President Nicolás Maduro’s request to the CNE to defer the announcement of the election’s full results. Clearly, Maduro fears his supporters’ reaction once they are aware of the real, immense scope of his defeat. The government needed some way to mitigate its electoral failure and preserve at least some of its ability to govern for the future.

But the Maduro regime won’t be able to hide the opposition’s overwhelming victory for long. It was a triumph that exceeded the MUD’s own high expectations, and which was achieved in spite of numerous obstacles. Venezuela’s arbitrary regime and the CNE, for instance, resorted to snares to forbid well-known opposition figures from standing as candidates. These included former National Assembly member María Corina Machado, former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos, and current congressman Richard Mardo.

Beyond Venezuela, the citizens of many other Latin American countries are still waiting to know the election’s complete results. They are well aware that Maduro’s government has authoritarian leanings. They also know that the Chavistas‘ defeat will have crucial implications for the entire region.

Good news regarding yesterday’s election includes the high turnout, an all-time high of 74 percent compared to 66 percent in 2010. In 2005, only 25 percent of voters headed to the polls, since the opposition made the disastrous mistake of refusing to participate in the congressional election, claiming that this would delegitimize then President Hugo Chávez. This only achieved an unopposed majority for the government.

Yesterday’s turnout reveals that, as the majority of opinion polls predicted, the great majority of Venezuelans, many Chavistas included, are tired of the current situation. They don’t think that the Maduro government will end scarcity of basic products or reduce the astronomic levels of inflation.

Nor do they fear the Castro-Chavistas‘ threats and aggression any longer. They want a change at the helm, some more radical than others. Still, the result is nothing less than a manifest rejection of Maduro’s policies and style of government.

The election was held in peace. This shows that Venezuelans won’t settle for any kind of change; they want a democratic, civic, and peaceful transition away from Chavismo. When voters expressed their discontent with key regime figures such as state governors José Gregorio Vielma Mora (Táchira), Adan Chávez (Barinas), Francisco Rangel (Bolívar), Luis Acuña (Sucre), they did so only with jeers, hisses, and hoots. There was no physical aggression against them. Chavistas, however, did attack opposition voters.

The elections unfortunate incidents had, as always, the government and the supposedly independent CNE as protagonists. The government’s attempt to block opposition parties and group from state-owned media was particularly shameful.

The MUD had to invite six former presidents of Latin American countries to monitor the election. The opposition also relied on foreign correspondents and social-media activists to denounce grave incidents, conspicuous among which was the great number of invalid votes.

For its part, the CNE revealed its utter lack of impartiality and good sense when it withdrew the Latin American ex-president’s permission to oversee the election due to their supposed lack of neutrality and “offensive remarks.” Current National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, even called for the dignitaries’ expulsion from Venezuela.

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The CNE also violated the Venezuelan constitution by decreeing that voting booths should remain open for one more hour than what is allowed. The country’s electoral law requires voting centers to close at 6 p.m. and that booths can remain open until 7 p.m. only if there are citizens inside who are still waiting to exercise their right to vote.

As in other occasions, the CNE acted as the government’s accomplice, decreeing the one-hour extension so that the ruling party would have additional time to mobilize its voters at the last minute. It was all in vain, however.

How will the government react once the official results are made public and the opposition obtains a qualified, two-thirds majority in the National Assembly?

As in the past, the Chavista regime will try to prevent the opposition’s crushing majority in the National Assembly from carrying out its proper functions. The Maduro regime will do what it can to stop the MUD as it tries to correct the excesses of 17 years of 21st-century socialism.

Translated by Daniel Raisbeck.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.