Will Venezuela’s Presidential Election Be Free and Fair?

Below are my comments in the Q&A section of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor

Three days after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on March 5, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, whom Chávez named as his preferred successor in December, was sworn in as the country’s “acting president.” Soon after, Venezuela’s government said the election to replace Chávez will be held on April 14 and the opposition’s Henrique Capriles then announced that he would run against Maduro. Will the election be fair? Which candidate will prevail? What is the future of Venezuela’s relations with other countries, including the United States, Cuba and Iran?

“In 2012, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council once again showed that it runs a clean and effective election. It has a first-rate electronic platform that has been audited and approved multiple times by national and international observers. However, the CNE last year also showed itself unable to ensure a fair campaign. During Chávez’s presidency, the incumbent’s advantage took on grotesque dimensions with abuse of state media, public service messages and state resources and institutions on behalf of the governing party’s candidate.

Nevertheless, Nicolás Maduro is likely to win handily, not because of this incumbent’s advantage, but rather because more Venezuelans trust Chavismo than trust the opposition. They feel their lives improved during Chávez’s presidency and associate the opposition with Venezuela’s neoliberal period when poverty and inequality increased. The sooner the Venezuelan opposition can recognize this and focus on changing this perception, the sooner they will become viable. Capriles is an underdog and needs to make sense of the problems faced by average Venezuelans and convince them that he can address them better than Maduro.

It is important to remember that Maduro was Chávez’s foreign minister for six years, so our starting assumption should be that he will continue Venezuela’s foreign policy, in which Cuba and Iran are key allies. Cuba is a strong ideological ally and has become a key partner in an oil-for-professional services exchange. Iran is also an ideological ally and shares with Venezuela an interest in maximizing oil revenue by maintaining high prices and low output.”

[To see Michael Shifter, Julia Buxton, Pedro Burelli and Ray Walser’s responses to the same questions click here]