EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

On Sunday, October 15 2017, according to the Venezuelan National Committee, the ruling Socialist party surprisingly won the regional elections, specifically in 17 of the 23 states of Venezuela, after a prolonged period of civil unrest. The opposition has alleged that the elections were rigged and thus invalid. They also called on the South American people to go to the streets and express their opposition not only to the election results, but also to the authoritarian way of governing by the current president, Nicholas Madura.

The opposition rejects the outcome of the election

Gerardo Blyde, chairman of the opposition party MUD, commented on the results of Sunday’s regional elections. He asked for a full audit of the results in all 23 states of Venezuela and called not only citizens of the country, but also candidates to protest against the results and the government of President Nicolas Madura. He did so in response to the surprising result of regional elections in which President Madura acquired 17 of 23 states. Public opinion polls predicted the opposition would gain between 11 and 18 states.

These predictions reflects the predicament in which the Latin American country has been in for two years; Venezuela has triple-digit levels of inflation, facing international sanctions, brain drain, starvation, and economic depression. The government does not disclose basic economic indicators on the state of the country.

Since this spring, there have been demonstrations, street violence, and enormous increases in crime, robberies and murders, especially in slums.

Calling another election?

On Friday 20 October, President Nicolas Maduro pointed out in his televised speech that further elections could take place. However, it will not be a repeat of the elections in the entire territory of Venezuela, but only in the countries where the opposition was won. This threat came as a reaction to the absence of the governors at the ceremony of the Constituent Assembly. President Nicolas Maduro said in his speech: “Anyone who wants to be a governor will have to recognize the Constituent Assembly, otherwise the elections will be repeated.” The opposition argues that, according to law, elected governors must swear an oath before regional parliaments, not before the Constituent Assembly.

Why are these elections not so important?

In Venezuela the past two years have been defined by the political crisis that erupted after the December 2015 parliamentary elections, which were won by the opposition coalition, MUD. Subsequently, the outgoing government led by Great Patriotic Pole, GPP (an electoral alliance of Venezuelan political parties created in 2011; the GPP supports the government of the president) appointed new members of the Constitutional Court, even before a new parliament was established. In July this year, the Socialists formed their own parliament – the Constituent Assembly, which, however, came from elections, who were boycotted by the opposition, which has declared a two-day general strike and deemed the assembly and its elections illegitimate.

On these controversial July elections, the United States responded by means of sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department on Maduro’s assets that fall under American jurisdiction. Sanctions also affect US firms by forbidding any dealings with Maduro. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a speech in which he announced the imposition of the above-stated sanctions, also named president Maduro a dictator and deemed his actions undemocratic. President Madura mocked the sanctions. and he said in his statement that the US should continue the process of imposing sanctions and he is punished for a unique election intervention in Latin America and the creation of the Constituent Assembly.

The European Union has expressed doubts about the outcome of the elections held in July. The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, announced that the EU would not recognize these elections. According to his words, it is very clear that the current regime holds all the power in the country.

Given the country’s dire situation both socially and economically, it is clear that the outcome of the elections is very surprising, even outright incomprehensible. Besides scenarios rigged elections, however, there is another, less likely, but not impossible option – and that the people to a large extent the current crisis is really not impute actions of President Maduro and his Socialist government.

During the last four decades we have witnessed the democratization of the various countries of the world. In Venezuela, we have seen the opposite process. Present steps by President Nicholas Madura are referred to as undemocratic. One such step is the creation of the aforementioned Constituent Assembly, who can overrule parliament. The international community at large has reacted by suspending Venezuela’s membership of the Mercosur Free Trade Group, suspending the business of international corporations such as coca-cola, and cancellation of flight routes to Venezuela, on top of the aforementioned US sanctions. However, the question remains if such steps can cause the President of Venezuela to change behavior and subsequently improve the living conditions of the local population.

 

Bára Pravdíková

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