Yesterday the Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter called Latin America Advisor ran a Q&A on the Venezuelan elections. The question and my answer are below. The full Q&A with responses from Steve Ellner and Julia Buxton can be seen here.
LAA: Candidates aligned with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared victory on Oct. 15, after the country’s National Electoral Council announced that pro-government candidates won at least 17 of the 23 governor’s offices up for grabs in regional elections. What were the most significant races, and what do the results mean for the balance of power in Venezuela? What do the election results portend for Maduro’s government? How free and fair was the election, and how likely was it that the results were fraudulent, as the opposition alleges? What are the chances that Venezuela’s failing economy, which the IMF forecasts will suffer an inflation rate next year at more than 2,000 percent, will become a tipping point for regime change?
DS: Sunday’s gubernatorial elections clearly strengthened the Maduro government and weakened the opposition. The opposition argued to its followers that it would be better to force the government to pay the political costs of committing irregularities and fraud than simply letting them occupy 23 governorships. However, they were apparently not convincing enough to get people to turn out and sweep the elections like opinion polls suggested they would. Worse yet, it appears they had no plan for the possibility of losing the election. So far, they have mustered only abstract and ambiguous denunciations of what happened. They need to put forward clear complaints where they think they have evidence, and recognize their losses where they do not. This is only the most recent of the MUD’s failures of coordination and strategy, and the entire way Venezuela’s opposition does politics needs to be rethought. Chavismo has nothing to be proud of in this electoral victory. The National Electoral Council’s (CNE) refusal to substitute candidates after the opposition’s primaries and its decision to move the electoral centers of 700,000 voters 72 hours before the election were clear attempts to confuse and impede the opposition vote. Moves like this are not simply part of the democratic struggle, they are violations of democratic rights. And most of the poor opposition turnout was due not to a failure of opposition mobilization, but to the distrust produced by the CNE’s fraud in the July Constituent Assembly election. A political movement that once inspired as an experiment in participatory democracy now survives by discouraging and de-mobilizing the population.