Electoral authorities declared President Nicolas Maduro, the Council on Foreign Relations notes, with about 68 percent of votes cast, the winner in a Sunday snap presidential election. Roughly 46 percent of eligible voters turned out for the election (CNN adds), compared with 80 percent in 2013.
The desultory vote provides the most obvious evidence so far that the nation’s socialist experiment enjoys scant popular support, Bloomberg adds. Maduro may join strongmen like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, controlling an outcast nation for decades.
“This is a speeding train that is headed straight toward disaster; there is no plan that the government appears to have at the moment that could fix it,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst at the International Crisis group.
“All Venezuelans know what happened today,” tweeted Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 election and was subsequently barred from running again, the Guardian reports. “Our beloved Venezuela must have truly free and democratic elections where the will of our People is reflected in the result.”
“Today’s so-called election in Venezuela is an insult to democracy,” the US mission to the UN tweeted. The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, said that his country, “like the majority of democratic countries”, would not recognize the vote
“Standing with the people of #Venezuela as #Maduro regime pursues sham election to consolidate dictatorship, & culture of criminality that underpins it,” human rights advocate Irwin Cotler tweeted. Legislature has been disbanded, Independent judiciary dismantled, civil society dismembered, he added.
After the poll – the latest chapter in the death of its democracy – Venezuela is facing the threat of fresh international sanctions and intensified domestic unrest Monday following Maduro’s re-election, Foreign Policy adds.
Javier Corrales, a Venezuela expert at Amherst College, predicted that the opposition’s sit-out strategy would be as disastrous as its boycott of congressional elections in 2005, PBS adds:
A 2010 study by the Brookings Institution covering 171 electoral boycotts around the world — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — found that such maneuvers rarely succeed in rendering elections illegitimate in the eyes of the world. Instead, the boycotting party usually emerges weaker and the incumbent empowered.
Maduro will take his election win “as a green light to continue radicalizing and moving in the direction of completely destroying the private sector,” said Corrales, a contributor to the Journal of Democracy.
The question now is whether the pressure reaches the point where Maduro’s inner circle cracks, a faction of the military turns against him or simply silencing all dissenters becomes mathematically impossible, the Washington Post suggests.
“I don’t think any politician except Chávez in his best years would be able to rule this country for long, because it’s simply ungovernable, collapsed in every sense,” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political consultant. “On May 21, Maduro will find himself hostage of a situation that he himself has bred. I don’t think he’ll last more than 12 months.”
In Foreign Affairs, Brookings analyst Harold Trinkunas discusses why Venezuela’s opposition (HT:CFR) has not been able to effectively challenge Maduro.
The election confirms the regime’s close affinity with Cuba’s Communist regime, analysts suggest. Maduro received his formative political training in Communist Cuba and remains deeply bonded with authorities in Havana.
Cuban-coached repression has done its job, notes the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady. There were more than 12,180 political arrests between January 2014 and early April this year, according to the Venezuelan human-rights group Foro Penal. Jails and detention centers are unsafe and unsanitary and offer little or no food. Torture is common; legal representation is not. Prisoners can linger for years with no trial.
Maduro “has been underestimated, not only by the opposition but also by a lot of Chavistas,” said Andres Canizalez, an expert in political communication. “But he has benefited from mistakes by others, managing also to neutralize his adversaries” within the socialist movement in power since 1999. The authoritarian populist “went through a metamorphosis and these elections are the culmination of that process,” Canizalez told AFP.
Analysts Michaela Frai and Alex Entz suggest “How the US Can Keep Venezuela from Becoming a Failed State,” in The Weekly Standard.
Yet the international community and local democratic activists can play a role in rebuilding Venezuela’s democracy after the election, says analyst Christopher Sabatini. He proposes four steps they can take to begin to reassert international and regional human rights and democracy norms, provide relief to long-suffering Venezuelan citizens and provide a stable solution for the deeply divided country to avoid a dangerous potential coup and broader social upheaval, writing for Global Americans (a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy):
- Push for meaningful dialogue: For years, a “Group of Friends” consisting of Mexico, Chile and Paraguay—among others—has overseen a dialogue between the Maduro government and representatives of the political opposition. The talks, held in the Dominican Republic, have stalled over the government’s refusal to release political prisoners, restore credible election authorities and respect the constitution. ….
- Build community: Desperation, political polarization and the absence of rule of law and security have torn Venezuela’s social fabric apart. The government has exploited these conditions, distributing baskets of food to voters in return for promises of electoral support, and threatening state employees that they will lose their jobs if they support the opposition. Regional neighbors and international groups need to collectively insist that the government permit outside humanitarian assistance that will work with local NGOs to provide that support—food, medical supplies, even basic personal hygiene products such as toilet paper—in a non-partisan, non-ideological fashion.
- Prepare for change (and produce a carrot): Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann and the International Monetary Fund have each developed their own analyses of what will be necessary to rebuild Venezuela in terms of returning oil production to pre-Chávez levels, addressing infrastructural deficits, restoring social services, ending hyperinflation, and digging the government out of its deep fiscal hole. But most of these have been macro assessments based on the presumption that rebuilding will start from a clean slate after the current government collapses. The IMF analysis determined that Venezuela would require $30 billion per year for up to 10 years. ….
- Address Venezuela’s Migrant Crisis: An estimated 5,000 Venezuelansleave the country every day, and the migrant flow is expected get much worse. There are more Venezuelan citizens fleeing their country than …..
Each of these steps requires regional coordination and funding, along with a strong dose of reality about the likely paths of change and timing—something that has been sorely lacking for almost a decade, Sabatini adds. RTWT