Venezuelan Election Take-away

David Smilde

First things first. The Venezuelan people, the Maduro government and Chavismo deserve some applause. The Venezuelan people went massively to the polls despite a growing distrust of the CNE and despite not trusting that their vote is secret. The government and Chavismo deserve credit for courageously heading into an election they knew they were likely to lose (they read the same polls everyone else does).

After the polls were closed Chavismo consistently sent out messages praising the democratic process and levels of participation, despite signs that it was not their day. All of this should give pause to those who, over the past year, have confidently asserted that the elections wouldn’t happen, or that the government wouldn’t recognize the results.

This is a stinging rebuke and the government needs to reassess. If they play their cards right, this could provide them with a significant opportunity to move forward with unpopular but urgent reforms, while getting the opposition to share the political costs. Some of Bill Clinton’s most effective years were when he had a Republican congress.

For the opposition this triumph poses some challenges. They need to actually provide some solutions to people’s problems and not just let this devolve into a fight for power. The population needs relief from economic tribulations. The opposition needs to remember that this is just one election, and if they are to change the course of Venezuela they need to win elections in the future. To do, the swing voters who have finally given them their support are going to be watching what they can do. If they fall into in-fighting or appear destructive, these voters could turn back to Chavismo.

We are definitely moving beyond the era of the “pink tide” in Latin America–Kirchnerism has lost in Argentina, Dilma is in single digits in Brazil, and now Chavismo has received a significant blow in Venezuela.

But it seems premature to portray this as a regional swing to the right. These defeats at the polls and in the court of public opinion are more about concrete issues of governance. In Argentina people are upset by economic woes, in Brazil by a continual flow of corruption scandals, and in Venezuela a general lack of good government, mainly the economic disaster, but also crime, education and corruption. All of this is good and reinforces the long-term regional trend in democratic enfranchisement, which allows average people to hold their leaders accountable.