The Venezuelan elections

Author: 
Emile Schepers

Candidates allied with the left-wing government of President Nicolas Maduro won in 17 of Venezuela’s 23 states in regional elections on Sunday, October 15.  Results in one state (Bolivar) have not been announced yet at writing.   The turnout of eligible voters was 61.1 percent. The results indicate a recuperation of support for the government since its heavy loss in the legislative election of December 6, 2015.
A recent poll had indicated that President Maduro’s approval rating, which had been low, had been improving.  However, the size of the victory for his PSUV’S (United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s) candidates for governor took many observers by surprise. The PSUV candidates won in the states of Amazonas, Apure, Aragua, Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, Falcon, Guarico, Lara, Miranda, Monagas, Sucre, Trujillo, Yaracuy, Delta Amacuro and Vargas. The right wing opposition MUD coalition (Democratic Unity Roundtable) won in the states of Anzoátegui, Merida, Tachira, and Nueva Esparta.  The extreme right wing First Justice Party, whose candidate ran separately from the main right wing MUD coalition, won in Zulia. The overall result with 95 percent of votes counted was 54 percent of the vote for PSUV candidates and 43.7 percent for MUD candidates.
MUD lost three governorships it was expected to win, including Miranda state which had been considered an opposition bastion, and whose governor, Henrique Capriles Rodonski, is a major opposition leader.  Predictably, MUD claimed that the election was not fair and demanded an audit of the election results, a procedure which is routine in Venezuela and which President Maduro had already announced would be done.
Also predictably, the Trump administration and other right wing governments worldwide, including President Macron of France, denounced the election results.  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted that “dictator” Maduro had used manipulation and intimidation to rig the election.   Whether Trump will now take new actions against Venezuela as a result of this election outcome will soon become known.  Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government angrily rejected the U.S. statements, accusing the Trump administration of encouraging destabilizing violence in this country of 30 million inhabitants.
The election was monitored by many Venezuelan and international observers.  After the vote, Nicanor Moscoso, President of CEELA, the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts, pronounced the vote as reflecting the will of the Venezuelan people.   The Venezuelan opposition and its international allies are likely to discount this evaluation as having a left wing bias.
Venezuela has been undergoing great difficulties over the past couple of years, due mostly to the precipitous drop in the price of oil, by far its major export, on world markets.  The country has suffered very high inflation, scarcity of the many consumer products that have to be imported, and public safety challenges.  The Venezuelan right, supported by the country’s big business interests, has taken advantage of this state of affairs to destabilize and discredit the government.
There are credible accusations, for example, that business interests have been hoarding commodities to drive prices up. The opposition has also organized often violent protests, in which public buildings and supplies of food have been burned. Since April 143 people have been killed in these protests, the majority of them either supporters of the government, security personnel or bystanders, though some protesters have also been killed by security forces.
On July 30, eight million Venezuelans turned out to vote for candidates for National Constituent Assembly, a body authorized by the Venezuelan constitution and empowered to make radical changes to the country’s laws.  The United States, supporting the right wing opposition, had demanded that this vote not go forward, and when the Venezuelan government went ahead with the election anyway, imposed strong sanctions on the country, designed to cut off Venezuela’s access to foreign loans.
In a situation that all agree is very difficult for the Venezuelan people, what caused a vote swing, as compared to the 2015 legislative elections, of such size?  The jury is still out, but a few ideas are circulating that might help explain the development.
One is that after months of violent protests, many Venezuelans may be turned off on the MUD opposition.  Although there have been sharp criticisms of the Maduro government, that does not necessarily mean that voters have a high opinion of the political right either.
Perhaps the ostentatious alliance of the right wing opposition with the Trump administration is backfiring on them.  Trump and his people make clear that they don’t think that Latin American countries like Venezuela are fully sovereign and independent, and such an attitude is likely to antagonize many people who otherwise might have been persuaded to support the opposition.  So the government may have gotten a boost from patriotic sentiments.
While Trump is threatening to attack Venezuela, it is probably not a good plan for the Venezuelan right to be identifying itself with the U.S. government, as it opens them up to accusations of “traición de la patria” (“treason against the homeland”).
The fact that the Constituent Assembly has begun its work and has become a mechanism for ordinary people to raise complaints about state institutions may be giving people a greater sense of participation and also of hope for the future.
And finally, the opposition boycotted the Constituent Assembly elections, but decided, for the most part, to participate in the regional elections.  Some opposition stalwarts disagreed with this and their supporters may have stayed home. (IPA)

Thursday, 26 October, 2017