Fragmented opposition faces pragmatic chavismo in regional election in Venezuela

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Fragmented opposition faces pragmatic chavismo in regional election in Venezuela

A fragmented opposition faces pragmatic Chavismo in Venezuela’s regional elections, held this Sunday (21). The election is highlighted by the return of two actors. In addition to the opponents, international observers will be in the country to monitor the vote — which will elect names for 3,082 offices: 23 governors, 335 mayors, 253 regional legislators and 2,471 councilors.

Missions from the European Union, the UN and the Carter Center, an organization linked to former US president Jimmy Carter, were sent to Venezuela. The last elections were carried out without this component, reintroduced by the regime as part of negotiations with opponents in recent months in Mexico.

The opposition, in turn, will participate in an election for the first time since the 2015 election for the Legislature, internationally recognized as the last legitimate in the country. Two years later, the regime promoted a vote for the Constituent Assembly that aimed to empty the National Assembly, which had an opposing majority. In 2018, dictator Nicolás Maduro was re-elected in a contested dispute.

The following year, the members of the Assembly, considering that there was a power vacuum, declared the leader of the House, Juan Guaidó, as interim president and began to campaign for free elections as quickly as possible. Almost three years later, without reaching the goal, the so-called G4 — which brings together the opposition parties Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia, Acción Democrática and Un Nuevo Tiempo — decided to step back and participate in this election. Guaidó and the leader of the Voluntad Popular, Leopoldo López, were voted out and gave in to internal pressures from the legends.

For Venezuelan political analyst Eugenio Martínez, the vote “does not threaten in any way the permanence of Maduro in power, but it can be a starting point for the reconstruction of local powers and the system of electoral participation, lost by the repeated boycotts”.

Even leaders who supported Guaidó and broke with him have different views on Sunday’s vote. Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is in favor of the opposition’s participation and calls for an end to his colleague’s “interim stay” — it must be decided in January 2022.

María Corina Machado agrees with the dismissal of the self-proclaimed interim president, but considers that running in the election is showing complicity with the regime.

Amid the mismatch of positions, the campaign speech of the opponents left aside the narrative of taking Maduro from power to concentrate on recovering spaces in regional administrations.

“Returning to office is important to legitimize our struggle —which will always be for the end of the dictatorship—, but for now, we may have to go step by step,” says former deputy Freddy Guevara. “We know that conditions are not ideal and that, even if our candidates win, we will have reduced and controlled powers. But it is important to participate in order to have the strength to press for negotiations.”

One of those trying to unseat the regime from a key position is José Manuel Olivares, who is vying for governor of La Guaira, a Chavista stronghold, with the ruling José Alejandro Terán.

“Just being on the street campaigning is already a strong symbol. People cannot think that we have given up on them, which is why it is important to be in this election, to talk to people about their daily problems,” he says. “We have to expose ourselves to summon Venezuelans back to the streets and to an interest in politics. Even if the electoral result is not satisfactory.”

On the other hand, the regime downplays the tone of the ideological discourse. Instead of evoking the figure of Hugo Chávez (1954-2013) and relying on speeches that there is an imperialist conspiracy against the revolution, Maduro’s candidates campaigned with a focus on immediate population problems, such as the economic crisis and security. Even the color red, which predominated in electoral campaign material, has been replaced by other colors, with light blue being the predominant one.

The enthusiasm of the electorate, however, did not take off. According to data from Datanálisis, only 15% of Venezuelans say they are very willing to go to the polls. “We have a scenario in which Chavismo voters are more likely to vote than opposition voters, who are disillusioned with recent failures and the fragmentation of their leaders,” he tells sheet Luis Vicente León, economist and director of the institute. “You also have to take into account that 20% of the electorate has emigrated in recent years — and if they were people unhappy with the regime, they would be important voters for the opposition.”

Although the willingness to vote is small, polls show that 85% of Venezuelans want a regime change. For León, Chavismo is willing to show itself as something democratic in order to legitimize itself before the international community — and this is a chance for the opposition to grow.

“You can’t think that Venezuela’s election is similar to that of Nicaragua. Here, in fact, there will be observers and opposition,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that the regime isn’t authoritarian and that intimidation and outcome management strategies won’t be used. But still, it’s not theater.”

It is also the first election since the restructuring of the CNE (National Electoral Council), which is now made up of two independent rectors and three Chavistas. “They did a job to make the election technically more reliable. But it is necessary to take into account that Chavismo still controls the CNE and that the Supreme Electoral Court, which settles problems in the council, is also Chavez,” says León.

Venezuela faces serious economic crisis. Over the past eight years, GDP has shrunk 75%, and the country has the highest inflation rate in the region, at 1.945% a year, according to the World Bank. There are 8 million unemployed and 94.5% of the population is below the poverty line, according to data from the Catholic University Andrés Bello.

In 2019, the regime allowed the use of dollars in the everyday economy, due to the shortage of currency caused by high inflation. Today, 70% of internal commercial transactions are carried out in US currency, as are 60% of bank deposits. The measure facilitated the entry into the local economy of remittances sent by Venezuelans abroad. There are already 6 million people who have emigrated in recent years, during the period of Chavista governments — one-fifth of the country’s population.

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