Q&A: Can Venezuela’s Opposition Pull Off a Victory?

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor newsletter ran a Q&A on the opposition’s chances in this year’s legislative elections. Below I have appended the question and my response. Follow this link to the newsletter to read responses by Beatrice Rangel, Jennifer McCoy, and George Ciccariello-Maher.

Venezuela’s opposition held its primary in mid-May to choose some of the candidates who will compete in the national legislative election expected to be held later this year, though no date has yet been set. The governing party has its primary elections scheduled for next month. While polls have shown that if elections were held today, the opposition would win a majority in the National Assembly, internal disputes have hampered the coalition in past elections. What did the primary election reveal about the state of the opposition? What issues are expected to play the biggest role in the upcoming legislative election? Will the opposition coalition be able to capitalize on the low popularity of the incumbent government, or will it fall short in the end?

David Smilde, Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America

“The opposition is in an enviable position heading into the legislative elections, more than doubling the government’s support in most polls. However, this is more a result of the Maduro government’s tailspin over the past six months than anything the opposition has itself done. They are still beset by internal divisions, a lack of coherent leadership and long-term reluctance to engage in the canvassing, dialogue and messaging that is essential to electoral politics. The number of undecided voters is still larger than the gap between the opposition and the government, and they will decide the election. The government is at a serious disadvantage given that it seems unable to reform an unsustainable model of governance. But if it can turn the economy around in time, it has a much greater connection with average Venezuelans and superior ability to mobilize its followers. Radicals on both sides of the political spectrum are seeking to generate opposition abstention, and even a few percentage points could have an impact in swing districts. U.S. sanctions in February and March gave Maduro a 5-6 percent bump. That will likely dissipate, but a continued rollout of sanctions, expanding the list of targeted officials, could produce a series of bumps that could buoy the government through the elections. With a 7.5 percent turnout, the opposition’s partial primary was a qualifi ed success. This type of primary is a good test of party mobilization machines and generates attention and enthusiasm among followers. The success of the event only underlines why they should have gone to full primaries.”