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Maduro’s party loses its majority in the Venezuelan elections. The Bolivarian dream interrupted
Venezuelan elections for the legislature were held on the 6th of December. The opposition has triumphed and President Nicolás Maduro is in serious trouble.
Only a few hours after parliamentary elections were held in Venezuela on the 6th of December the electoral commission announced that the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has won 99 of 167 seats, compared to only 46 seats for the ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), of President Nicolás Maduro. It is still unknown who has won the remaining 22 seats. Although the incumbent isn’t going to face voters directly until 2018, the results are a clear message of discontent with the current socialist regime, which has lost an almost two-decade grip on a parliamentarian majority.
In the wake of imprisonment of political opposition, growing violence and economic crisis the general disenchantment with the direction of Venezuelan politics has been increasingly widespread. The level of dissatisfaction with the country’s direction has risen from 57% in 2013 to 85% according to a December study by the Pew Research Center (PRC), a leading US research institution. The historic Venezuelan elections held on the 6th of December have been hailed as a clear sign of the country’s need for change. “Venezuela wanted a change and today that change has begun,” said Jesus Torrealba, secretary of the MUD coalition. Officially, however, Maduro doesn’t seem to acknowledge the magnitude of his defeat. In response to the results he said: “We have lost a battle today but now is when the fight for socialism begins”.
Rising prices, lack of employment opportunities and shortages of basic goods are some of the key issues Venezuelans are currently facing, as highlighted by the PRC study. These mainly economic-oriented concerns are due to a severe economic crisis. Socialist policies will cost the country 10 and 6 per cent of GDP in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and inflation will reach 100% according the International Monetary Fund. In addition, continuous price drops on oil markets since June 2014 have hit Venezuela badly given that its economy is largely based on the petroleum sector.
Moreover, around two-thirds of those surveyed by the PRC don’t approve of the influence of the government, military and judiciary on the State. Surprisingly, this discontent with the Maduro regime doesn’t correspond to equal support for opposition leaders. Both Henrique Capriles, the current Governor of Miranda and Maduro’s biggest competitor in the 2013 elections, and Leopoldo López, recently incarcerated leader of the Volunatad Popular Party, barely received 36% favourable rating in the survey. This broad mistrust in institutions and the political system puts additional pressure on the future of Venezuela.
Venezuelan society is characterised by a deep ideological division. Radical and romanticized chavismo policy, set by President Hugo Chavez who governed the country from 1999 to 2013, still appeals to vast sectors of the population. Nine out of 10 left-wing sympathizers would like Venezuela to continue on Chavez’s path, whilst only 20% of right-wing citizens support chavismo. However, only 42% of the left actually stand behind the country’s current direction.
Such divisions have seen their expression in a bout of political repression in the aftermath of mass demonstrations in 2014. The most infamous is the case of Leopoldo López. In September he was sentenced to almost fourteen years imprisonment for offenses including terrorism, murder, and public incitement, a sentence that has drawn firm condemnation from many democratic governments and organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. “The charges against Leopoldo López were never adequately substantiated and the prison sentence against him is clearly politically motivated. His only ‘crime’ was being leader of an opposition party in Venezuela”, pointed out Amnesty’s Erika Guevara-Rosas.
In many respects, Venezuela has reached rock bottom. The question is how Maduro will react and how determined society is to spearhead change. The elections on the 6th of December have demonstrated that whilst Venezuelans are ready to embrace reform, the path towards a more democratic and transparent regime is still to be defined.
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