Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday (8 December) to elect 335 Mayors. As the polls approach there are growing concerns that extremists in Venezuela’s right-wing opposition coalition are planning to use these elections as a focal point for further destabilisation. Below, VSC looks at some of the key points surrounding the elections:
1. This will be the 18th set of free and fair elections since 1998 when Hugo Chavez came to office. Contrary to media misrepresentation, Venezuela is a vibrant democracy, holding more elections in this recent period than the previous 40 years. Each has been declared free and fair by international organisations such as the EU, Carter Centre and Organisation of American States. Just last year Nobel Prize winner and former US President Jimmy Carter called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world”.
2. Despite this vibrant democracy, the Venezuelan opposition is engaged in ongoing anti-democratic and unconstitutional attempts to replace the legitimate, elected government led by President Nicolas Maduro. There is growing concern of the use of economic sabotage to exploit and create difficulties in the economy and damage infrastructure. Government investigations have concluded that an enormous fire at a major oil refinery in 2012 was due to sabotage as was a nationwide blackout earlier this year. Speaking about another blackout provoked this week President Maduro said the extremists in the opposition sought “to provoke a state of irritation and discontent with the government.”
3. Venezuela’s opposition has a historical record of rejecting democracy and the country’s constitution. The most renowned example is the short-lived military coup against the Chavez government in 2002. Then, in 2003, there was a 64 day oil industry lock-out – a previous example of economic sabotage - with the declared aim of ousting the government. The right-wing then falsely claimed fraud at the 2004 recall referendum on whether President Chavez would continue, in a cynical attempt to sabotage the electoral system, even though the results were ratified by the Carter Centre. Likewise, in 2005, faced with certain defeat, they boycotted parliamentary elections.
Most recently in April, the opposition unleashed a wave of violence in response to Nicolas Maduro winning the Presidential election, leading to the death of 11 innocent people with dozens injured as well as arson attacks on government funded health centres, National Electoral Council buildings and the headquarters of parties supporting Maduro.
What links all these examples of refusing to abide by Venezuela’s constitution is an attempt to create crises and unseat the elected government. Such a record does little to build confidence that the opposition will accept the constitution in the period ahead, especially when considering that its current leading figures (including its leader Henrique Capriles Julio Borge and Leopaldo Lopez) have been involved with such anti-democratic activities.
4. Venezuela’s opposition is engaging in unconstitutional arguments concerning Sunday’s polls. Some are characterising the mayoral elections as a plebiscite against the Maduro government and election day opposition protests are being described as an opportunity to show the majority wants Maduro to go. This is a ridiculous line of argument – local elections do not determine the legitimacy of a national, elected government.
Worryingly, Maria Corina Machado, a significant opposition spokesperson, has said Nicolas Maduro’s term of office will not be determined constitutionally but be “determined on the streets.” Machada was widely reported this year to have signed a petition calling on the “Armed forces to restore the Constitution” and “take charge.” Such developments are extremely worrying – the opposition should respect the constitution and Maduro’s democratic mandate, even if it would have preferred a different outcome.
5. The US should stop interfering into Venezuela’s democratic processes. Considerable US financial support has been given to the extreme section in the right-wing opposition which have never accepted the legitimacy of the constitution, and has sought to destabilise and unseat elected governments. Earlier this year US diplomats were expelled from Venezuela for organising with opposition parties. International forces should respect Venezuela’s constitution. In particular, the US government should end its funding and support for the opposition, which does nothing to discourage them from feeling they can operate outside of the constitution and continue anti-democratic destabilisation.