Will Venezuela’s Vote Next Month Be Legitimate? Q&A in Latin America Advisor

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor had a Q&A on Venezuela’s upcoming regional elections. My contribution is below. You can read the responses of Eva Golinger, Phil Gunson and Julia Buxton here: LAA170921.

Q: “Venezuelan election authorities set Oct. 15 as the date of the long-awaited gubernatorial elections. The country’s opposition forces are favored to win in many races, though concerns over fraud could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the elections. Elections scheduled for last year were scrapped as the country’s economic crisis mounted and polls indicated Venezuelans highly favored removing President Nicolás Maduro from office. Why has the Venezuelan government decided to press on with scheduling elections now? Will the results be legitimate? What are the expected outcomes of the vote, and what will they mean for Maduro’s government?”

A: “Scheduling regional elections helps the Maduro government in a couple of ways. First, they give the international community a sign that democracy still exists. It is hard to call a country a dictatorship when it has elections on the docket. More importantly, these elections served to demobilize the opposition protest movement. On the one hand, elections are a classic means to move political conflict from the streets to institutions. On the other hand, whether or not to go to elections has predictably caused turmoil within the opposition. While the electoralists dominated the opposition coalition from 2006 to 2015, the entire opposition agreed with abstaining from the constituent assembly election because they considered it illegitimate. The opposition was also unifi ed in denouncing the CNE for committing fraud in that election. This has strengthened the abstentionists, especially among the base, and made going to elections a tough sell. However, the opposition is right about calling the government’s bluff and going to elections, as voting is the most effective way to confront an authoritarian project. The government cannot possibly win a vote, and under fair conditions the opposition will sweep the elections, simply due to the unpopularity of Chavismo and the people’s exhaustion. The Maduro government will likely nibble away at electoral conditions, disqualify candidates, not recognize their attributions when they win, or simply suspend the elections like it did a year ago. But it is better to make the government suffer the political costs of carrying out obnoxious, authoritarian actions than quietly conceding power to them by abstention.”