Municipal Elections Open Up Scenarios for January 10

Venezuelan analyst Ociel Lopez looks at how the recent municipal elections open the path to January 10, when Maduro will officially start his second term.

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Voters in Parque Central, Caracas, during the recent local elections. (Venezuelanalysis)
Voters in Parque Central, Caracas, during the recent local elections. (Venezuelanalysis)
By Ociel Lopez – Supuesto Negado
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The results of the municipal council elections, held on December 9, reinforced the two existing scenarios for 2019 in Venezuela, especially for January 10, when Maduro is slated to begin his second term in office.

On one hand, the election results represent an overwhelming victory for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), thus adding to the scenario of near-total government hegemony in the national political geography, since it can also count on 20 of the 24 governorships and 310 of the 335 mayorships. To this we add the National Constituent Assembly and a National Assembly – with an opposition majority – declared in contempt of court by the Supreme Court.

The absence of most [opposition] political parties from these elections, having embraced electoral abstention as a way of not recognizing the government, has paved the way for a devastating advance by the PSUV in institutional, legal and political grounds.

Taking these elections into account, Chavismo can boast of having won 23 of the 25 elections held since it appeared on the political scene 20 years ago. The victory in the May presidential elections, when Maduro won 67% of the vote (roughly six million votes), allows it to plan its stay in power for at least six years starting January 10.

On the other hand, the 73% abstention witnessed in this [electoral] contest mirrors the high abstention (54%) seen in the presidential elections. This points to a retreat from the political participation of the Venezuelan people, which had been very active in elections since the emergence of Chavismo. To delegitimize the latest elections, the discourse of the majority of the opposition forces focused on the “lack of legitimacy.” The National Assembly, under opposition control, has declared the May 20 elections, and Maduro’s second term, as illegitimate.

Participate or not?

Most opposition parties took no part in the municipal contests: on one hand the CNE stopped them, due to their abstention in the presidential elections [1] and on the other because they chose to not take part so as to reinforce their position. The logos of the MUD, Popular Will, Justice First, A New Time and Democratic Action did not figure on the ballots. Nevertheless, several of these parties kept their mobilizations, colors and propaganda, and called on their supporters to vote for other parties. Their concern was to keep municipal seats, as these are the legislative bodies in municipalities. The opposition holds only 25 out of 335 municipalities, but some are quite important, and losing control of municipal assemblies weakens its political position.

Looking at the results, the Baruta municipality in Caracas stands out. This is the opposition stronghold where Maria Corina Machado comes from, and where Henrique Capriles Radonski started off as mayor. However, Chavismo won there for the first time in its history.

As a disclaimer, given the high abstention, we should recall that this was the first time in which only councillors were elected, since historically this happened alongside elections for mayors, therefore increasing electoral mobilization. Therefore, in itself, this election did not generate much expectation and basically served as a build up for January 10, with some pointing to an overwhelming victory and others questioning its legitimacy due to high abstention.

Another interesting result was Simon Planas, where the emblematic El Maizal commune is located, and which has been gaining ground in recent elections, running against the PSUV.

It is worth mentioning the active participation of Cardinal Baltazar Porras, who called on people to vote. This strengthens the electoralist sector of the opposition, which continues to struggle against the radical abstentionist sector, and holds on to a series of demands such as the replacement of the current electoral authorities. It is worth mentioning that these are the same authorities that oversaw the opposition’s electoral victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections.

January 10: the new D-day

So January 10 has become the new “D-day” for the opposition, but the Venezuelan opposition is too weak to promote street mobilizations. The challenges that Maduro faces are for the most part international and geopolitical, which have driven him to visit Russia and strengthen ties with Turkey and China in recent weeks. Furthermore, he has moved closer to Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has spoken against a military intervention and, despite pressures from Mexico’s Congress, went ahead and invited Maduro to his inauguration. China and Russia have offered US $5 and $6 billion, respectively, to recover Venezuela’s ailing oil production.

Of course, we should not discard that on January 10 and subsequent days there may be mobilizations, strikes, etc. What is not clear is how this avenue could generate a change in government. Unless the military balance gets destabilized.

Before the day [December 9] was over, Maduro himself denounced plans for a coup being orchestrated from the US, but left further details for the future.[2]

It should be obvious to expect that the withdrawing of ambassadors from European and Latin American countries alongside new sanctions will worsen the situation in Venezuela, but there is no evidence showing that this will debilitate Maduro’s government, which has wilily occupied the political and institutional space left vacant by the opposition due to its abstentionist policies and the tough actions taken by the judicial branch.

As we had said before, the scenario of an imminent clash is not so much coming from the weakened Venezuelan opposition, but from the international responses, and the reactions of international actors. OAS Secretary Luis Almagro, some Latin American foreign ministers and members of the European Parliament have floated the idea of a total unrecognition of Maduro by withdrawing ambassadors. At the same time, the US displays a latent intensification of sanctions and the creation of a hypothetical economic blockade.

Notes

[1] Parties were required to renew their legal status.

[2] In a press conference on December 12, Maduro pointed the finger at John Bolton as the coordinator of these plans. He also denounced the training of paramilitary forces in Colombia as well as an increasingly threatening rhetoric from the incoming Bolsonaro administration in Brazil.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

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