Sunday, May 10, 2015

Maduro in his Labyrinth

Venezuelan newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff expects the
government to carry out elections, even tho they'll likely lose.
(Image: El Tiempo)

Venezuela's media is mostly controlled by the government; In the run-up to every election, the state oil company converts into a Chavista campaign machine; And many Venezuelans suspect that the government knows how they vote.

Nevertheless, Venezuelan voting has been called clean and its results accurate by international observers, enabling the government to boast about its democratic credentials.

Now, however, the government of Pres. Nicolas Maduro, successor to Hugo Chavez, may be nearing democratic breaking point.
Nicolas Maduro; struggling to hold on.

The uncharismatic Maduro's popularity has sunk to about 30%, and his country suffers shortages of milk, toilet paper and medicines. Electricity is being rationed. The rates of inflation and homicide are setting world records, and the economy is shrinking.

Under conditions like these, prospects look dim for the governing socialist party in the parliamentary elections supposed to be held in the second half of this year. Unsurprisingly, 10 of 11 opinion surveys published on Wikipedia show voters favoring the opposition over the governing party, in some with more than double the support.

A loss of power would not only halt the 'Bolivarian Revolution,' but could also put chavista officials at the mercy of opposition legislators eager to call them to account for years of corruption and alleged human rights violations.

What are Maduro and his party in the National Assembly to do to hold onto power?

Observers, particularly on the Caracas Chronicles blog, have made several speculations:

The government might postpone or even suspend elections, justifying the move by accusing the opposition of criminal plans to steal the elections or carry out a coup.

In fact, it appears increasingly as tho they are considering such a delay. After all, in previous elections, the government-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) set election dates a year or more in advance. The 2010 legislative elections took place in September. September 2015 is now only four months away.

However, one Caracas Chronicles contributor expects the government to hold the elections - and, if it loses, strip the National Assembly of its powers, making Pres. Maduro dictator in all but name.

"I think chavismo will lose the election, after which the National Assembly will be stripped of all its powers and be given a ceremonial role, if any.
"There could be a Constitutional Assembly. There could be some sort of national emergency declared. Any and all acts coming from an opposition-controlled National Assembly will be deemed illegal. They will find a way to disenfranchise us. I’m sure they will think of something."
Such a move, however, would create their clearest break yet with the democratic system.

I rather suspect the government might find a way to redraw voting districts, and gerrymander the system to retain a legislative majority despite an overwhelming loss of the popular vote.

When officials in Washington D.C. criticize Venezuela for this fraud, the response response from Caracas will be simple: 'Look at the U.S,'s own unjust and undemocratic election system, which elected the second George Bush president in the year 2000, despite his losing the popular vote to Al Gore.'

But if such manipulations would also appear too shameless, then perhaps fraud, pay-offs and intimidation would work. The government notoriously instructs government employees to vote for chavista candidates, and in the past they have circulated lists of names of people who voted for the opposition, who were then blacklisted from employment.

Alternatively, following a legislative loss, the government could accuse the opposition of fraud, fascism or being golpistas and ignore the results. 

It's sad to assume someone's guilt before the act's happened. However, the chavista government's discourse and behavior - and I lived in Caracas for almost three years of Chavez - make it hard to believe release their grip on power voluntarily.

Let's hope I'm wrong, since Latin America doesn't need another generation of dictators.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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