Chavista leaders say they provided democracy lessons because they won the three elections they organized:
These elections were part of a large official offensive. The government did not want to risk more elections as the one occurred in 2015, when the opposition won the legislative elections; in 2016, when the opposing public manifestations demanded a recall referendum; or on July 16th of 2017, when the opposition obtained more than 6 million votes after five months of protests rejecting the Constitutional Assembly imposed without public consultation or popular vote.
The official counteroffensive began during the last days of the previous National Assembly guaranteed official control of the Supreme Justice Tribunal (SJT), the National Electoral Council (NEC) and the supervision agencies. The SJT cancelled the absolute majority of the opposition of the new National Assembly, contesting the election of representatives, declared it in contempt and removed immunities and distributed its functions amongst the executive power.
The NEC blocked the recall referendum, postponed and fractioned the elections, closed registrations, disqualified opposing political parties and candidates and prohibited the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) (Democratic Unity Roundtable party) to act as a coalition and included in their ballot unitary and excluded candidates. The Constitutional Assembly co-governs as a superpower.
The strategy of the administration has included repression of manifestations, jailing opposing mayors, banishment and forced migration. While resorting to official Chavista propaganda, public television shows opposers as traitors and promoters of terrorism. In order to verify if public employees and those on “social welfare” vote, they have to show the “Carnét de la patria” (Motherland ID card) at “red points” installed by the Partido Socialista Unificado de Venezuela (PSUV) (Socialist United Venezuelan Party)
Electoral observers from supranational organizations or foreign governments were replaced by companions invited by the government. The company which provided technical support to the registration system and vote recounting lost its contract after demonstrating that the votes for the Constitutional Assembly had been tampered with.
There are no authorities to process electoral abnormalities, such as changes in polling stations; intimidation from military forces or armed groups (colectivos) at polling areas. The order coming from the Venezuelan Minister of Defense was to supervise the vote for its subordinates. There were also claims of fraud for the election of the Governor of the Estado Bolívar.
The government forced governors and mayors to take oath before the Constitutional Assembly. Some elected opposers accepted this action without agreeing, but still, the government appointed a “protector” (the losing Chavista candidate) with ample duties and budget. The opposing candidate that won in Zulia, did not accept to take his oath with the Constitutional Assembly, so he was deposed and elections were repeated, with the winner being a Chavista.
Through these arbitrary mechanisms and an abstentionism of more than 50%, the Chavismo established itself into power and strengthened a one-party political system. The government claimed that for the election of the Constitutional Assembly it had obtained 8 million votes; it kept 19 of the 23 governor’s offices and increased the amount of mayors from 242 to 308, of the existing 335. The opposition decreased from 81 to 23 mayors. Nicolás Maduro threatened to make illegal the political parties that did not participate in the elections.
The opposition reaped the worst results during the Chavista regime, not only due to loss of governors and mayors but also due to its inability to unite the MUD party, with social protesting and Chavista dissidence. They were divided in deciding if they should participate or not in the elections for governors and mayors and in the dialogue with the government.
However the Chavista victory is frail. The economic and institutional situation is bleak, citizen insecurity is unspeakable, and international isolation is dramatic, with indicators such as:
Hyperinflation surpasses 1,600%. Devaluation and loss of internal production are drastic, making inhabitants dependent on government imports, even to be able to eat, when the currency is lacking.
Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) has collapsed due to lack of management and corruption. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) highlights the continued loss of oil production to less than 2 million barrels a day, the largest in 30 years. PDVSA has seen trade credits close down as well as supplier services canceled. Credit rating agencies declared Venezuela in default and neither China nor Russia are willing to give a helping hand. In response, the Maduro administration has now launched its own cryptocurrency, dubbed the “petro”.
Corruption is startling: 180 police officers and members of the so-called Local Committees for Supply and Production (Clap, for its Spanish acronym) were jailed for taking advantage of food distribution for personal gain. The Office of the Prosecutor General has accused and jailed managers, former ministers and impeached the former 12-year head of PDVSA for losses of more than US $3,500 million. A general of the National Guard was appointed to this position.
Some say this offensive is an internal purge to consolidate Maduro in face of his rivals within the Chavista party so he can be a candidate for reelection. To benefit from his electoral control machinery and opposition in-fighting he can call for 2018 elections earlier than expected. A divided MUD would have less time to restructure and get the majorities to overcome the frustration that contributed to the mistakes of its leaders.
At the end of 2017, the government summoned a new dialogue with the opposition. Both parties need concrete results; the government is urged to get the support of the opposition to obtain international recognition for its presidential elections and to restructure and refinance the national debt, which requires eliminating or reducing sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe. The opposition demands Maduro to free political prisoners and bettering electoral conditions. Maduro could grant concessions that would not risk his permanence in power, in any case, the negotiations will continue on January the 11th.
Some opposing sectors reject any negotiation with the government and also some Chavistas prefer not to meddle with the opposition or want the reelection of Maduro. They think a new Chavista government needs to change the economic model, foreign currency exchange, price controls and nationalization to obtain funds and international acceptance. In any event, the elections by themselves are no longer a guarantee for democracy.