Latin America Advisor Q&A on the Future of the Venezuelan Opposition

Today the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor had a Q&A on the Venezuelan opposition. The question and my response is below. You can read John Maisto, Gustavo Roosen, and Eva Golinger’s responses here.

Question: Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles on Oct. 24 withdrew from the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, highlighting a rift in the coalition. His move came after four out of the five opposition governors elected on Oct. 15 agreed to be sworn in by the country’s pro-government Constituent Assembly after President Nicolás Maduro threatened to re-hold elections in the five states that elected opposition governors. What does Capriles’ decision mean for the coalition’s leadership, and what should be the MUD’s strategy looking forward? How will the decision by the four opposition governors to be sworn in by the Constituent Assembly affect their relationship with the powerful body? Will the coalition mend fissures among its members or will a new opposition dynamic replace it?

David Smilde: “The four governors’ swearing in before Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly was as big of a setback to the opposition as the electoral losses themselves. The biggest obstacle to the consolidation of Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian project is that the supposedly all-powerful Constituent Assembly is considered illegitimate by most Venezuelans and most countries in the region. Having recently elected opposition leaders swear in before it is the first step in the government’s efforts to create an ‘official opposition’ like Vladimir Putin has in the Russian Duma.

Clear vote count fraud in the assembly elections in July and the governor’s election in Bolívar State would now make it almost impossible for opposition leaders to convince their base to turn out. This, in addition to the Kafkaesque conditions the National Electoral Council has imposed on opposition candidates and voters in recent elections, virtually guarantees that the opposition would lose big in municipal elections, as it did on Oct. 15. Thus, it is not surprising that they have declined to participate as a way of demanding better electoral conditions. But here again, without some sort of unified strategic plan and communications effort, it will be difficult for the opposition to pressure the government or benefit from concerted international support.

It is likely that some local opposition leaders will participate in and win elections despite the MUD’s refusal. This will further strain the coalition, as these elected mayors will either become part of the government’s ‘official opposition’ or develop dissenting leaderships that challenge MUD leaders. The Maduro government will likely seek to up the ante on the MUD’s new abstentionist strategy by moving up the 2018 presidential elections.”