Viva Venezuela... But Not Yet
As the National Front is gaining ground in France’s latest regional elections, in Venezuela the opposition to President Maduro’s Socialist Party has won two thirds of the parliamentary seats in the country’s National Assembly. Although the media had been broadcasting Hugo Chavez’s old speeches instead of covering the election, the Democratic Unity coalition obtained 110 out of 165 seats—even from the Caracas slumps, long known bastions of ‘Chavismo’. The opposition’s primary goal is to secure the release of their party members jailed over the last few months for speaking against the current regime and inciting protests in the streets. Maduro, however, declared that ‘’the bad guys won’’, denied any desire to release political prisoners, and threatened the electorate they will regret their decision.
About Venezuela’s economic situation we’ve talked on various occasions in the past. It now seems that the population has finally moved the balance of power out of Maduro’s hands. Or maybe not yet. While it is tempting to hope that the political situation in Venezuela will finally move away from the socialist policies implemented over the last decades, there are several reasons to be skeptical about the real dimensions of this political change.
First of all, the Democratic Unity party seems to be motivated more by a personal dislike of Maduro (not that they are to blame for this) rather than a coherent economic policy. This is mainly due to the fact that after the victory, they “urged the government to stop crying and start working” on tackling the country’s economic issues—which include food shortages and over 100 percent price inflation. The problem here, however, is that the government has been working, and very hard, to bring about these very woes it is now urged to solve. That the opposition still believes Maduro’s socialists are in any way capable of working toward the improvement of economic conditions casts a terrible doubt on their economic literacy. Perhaps the opposition party is just a watered-down version of the current chavista rule, for which socialism is still undefeated in theory, just badly put into practice.
Second, Nicholas Maduro is far from having surrendered his power. He did announce a cabinet reshuffle and some future deliberations in search of new economic solutions. But until January, he still controls the parliament and is able to transfer its legislative powers to the office of the president. The precedent was created by Hugo Chavez in 2010, when faced with a similar drop in election popularity he passed a law that allowed him to rule by decree, taunting the opposition by saying “We're going to see how you make laws now.” Five years later, even after his passing, Chavez’s men are still in power. Whether Maduro will make the same step himself remains to be seen, but the likelihood is high. After all, it’s not like he has shied away from dictatorship before.
The one thing we can venture to be less skeptical about is the electoral process, which—in contrast to many other socialist countries—appears to not have been rigged this time. And it is encouraging to see a disenchanted population taking some steps, such as are within their means, to change the conditions they live in. At the same time, we are painfully reminded that in Venezuela, just like in any other country in the world, the population rarely has a real choice to make anyway.