Crisis & Critique: How Does Venezuela’s Year End?

VA columnist Ociel Lopez takes a look at the correlation of forces going into 2021

The results of the parliamentary elections of December 6, as well as those of the opposition’s informal consultation on the 12, allow one to sketch out the correlation of forces as 2020 comes to an end. Indeed, this has been an important year in the national political sphere.

Venezuela is always at a crossroads, but this year we went beyond the fork. The country took a path.

Control of the national Parliament was at play in 2020. The Parliament had been in the hands of the opposition for the last five years and it was their high-level platform from which to try to bring the government down. It was from there that Guaido declared himself “interim president” with an oath that forged so many expectations, especially abroad. Almost two years later, it must be evaluated.

The government’s whitewashing of the parliament on December 6, with 67 percent of the votes (equating to 253 of the 274 seats), allows it to have an absolute majority in the unicameral body at a time when offices such as the comptroller, the attorney general, and the ombudsman, whose positions have constitutionally lasted seven years, are due for renewal. The same goes for some Supreme Court judges, whose term is twelve years.

The results of the December 6 elections ensure that Chavismo maintains political-institutional control for most of this upcoming decade. This comes despite an abstention rate of close to 70 percent, which was very high when compared to that recorded in the previous legislative elections.

Two shadows, however, cast themselves over Chavismo’s optimistic results.

The first is the decline in its vote: the official coalition, the Great Patriotic Pole, got 4,317,819 votes, over a million less than in the 2015 parliamentary elections when it got 5,625,248 but was thunderously defeated.

Why did Chavismo sweep this year’s elections despite getting fewer votes than when it lost? The explanation is simple. In 2015, abstention was 25 percent and this time it was 70 percent. This means that if the opposition (as a whole) had decided to choose the electoral path, Chavismo would be in trouble.

The second shadow is the complete failure of the opposition that participated in the elections. This sector represents a sharp break with the radical opposition, despite the U.S. Treasury Department sanction threats against five of its leaders.

Its two coalition blocs, the Democratic Alliance and United Venezuela, got 17 and 4 percent of the vote, respectively. These results pale in comparison to the opposition’s 2015 victory, in which it got 56 percent of the vote.

This weakness suggests that the radical opposition continues to dominate the Venezuelan opposition, and if a cross-party political agreement is to be reached, the government will have to take it into account. In other words, it is not worth only talking with the moderate opposition because of its low backing and its impotence in displacing the people from radicalised actors.

The Guaidó “Consultation”

The December 12 “consultation,” convened by Juan Guaidó, asked the participants whether they considered the recent parliamentary elections to be legitimate. Its objective was clear. Guaidó and some of the deputies who elected him as president of the National Assembly [in 2019] have declared “administrative continuity” beyond the constitutionally envisaged parliamentary period. As such, they need to justify the actions of the “interim office” once the legal deadline expires. This “consultation” sought to legitimise their perpetuation, on which they have not placed a definitive time span.

But, according to the results reported by Guaidó and the organising committee, the “consultation” failed to motivate a strong response. With a physical participation of 3.2 million people, the abstention of their lean event seems to be more than 85 percent, much higher than that of the official elections (70 percent).

The 845,000 participants who voted abroad (according to Guaidó’s figures) expanded the electoral roll because this sector could not vote in the parliamentary elections: their right to vote from abroad is legally limited to presidential elections.

The 2.4 million who allegedly participated in a virtual manner [through Telegram and Twitter] cannot be compared to the electoral system results that do not envisage such a mechanism, and even less so given the week-long period for participation in the “consultation.”

Likewise, the “consultation’s” results cannot be corroborated and did not have international observers (curiously, if we take into account the number of powerful governments that Guaidó can count as allies).

In the parliamentary elections, 6,251,080 people voted in person and on a single day.

The results confirm that the opposition is a minority now, and break the connection that could have been made between the high parliamentary elections abstention and opposition calls.

But the “consultation” figures offered also raise many doubts.

International media, enthusiastic supporters of the consultation, made angry criticisms of the process. One was France 24: “In addition to the absence of external observers, there were no participation controls to prevent citizens from depositing their responses at more than one point or to ensure that those who had already voted virtually did not also do so with physical ballots.”

The event also revealed the depth of the differences between opposition leaders. Some of the more radical ones, like María Corina Machado, as well as others such as Henrique Capriles, rejected the consultation and denounced the failure of the Guaidó project. According to them, the project is limited not only to this consultation but also to a series of events such as the attempt to introduce humanitarian aid into the country that ended up being burned by the opposition itself, the April 30, 2019 military coup attempt, and the attempted armed raid called Operation Gideon in May this year among others, all with equally disastrous endings.

However, the event that most puts the interim office on the line is Donald Trump’s defeat, whose government staged Guaidó’s uprising, and whose defeat leaves the political opposition in a situation of terminal crises at the end of 2020.

With the “consultation” come and gone, Guaidó sits and waits for the orders of the new U.S. administration. In the meantime, he designs a new effort to breathe life into his supporters by calling for a march for January 5, the day of the swearing-in of the new National Assembly.

Next year looks set to hit the ground running in Venezuela and from Crisis & Critique we will be following it very closely.

Ociel Alí López is a Venezuelan researcher who has published numerous written and multimedia works. He is dedicated to analyzing Venezuelan society for several European and Latin American media outlets. He is a co-founder of alternative Venezuelan state television station Avila TV in 2006. He is the recipient of the CLACSO/ASDI researcher prize and the Britto Garcia literature award.

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