GP Insights # 450, 13 December 2020
On 7 December, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's political alliance claimed victory in the Congressional elections. The election, held on 6 December, was boycotted by the opposition leaders. It has been widely criticized internationally for being fraudulent.
According to the National Electoral Council, Maduro's party - the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allied parties captured 67.6 per cent of the total 277 seats in the National Assembly. 18 per cent of the total votes were secured by the right and the left opposition parties. The voters' turnout was low as only 31 per cent of the 20 million registered voters participated in the election.
What is the background?
First, the election result and Maduro's position. It strengthens Maduro's political hold. He came to power in 2013; his authoritarian governance and his inability to revive a once-thriving Venezuelan economy marked his rule. Under his predecessor Hugo Chávez, the country became a growing oil-dependent economy. Since 2013, prolonged economic depression, lack of basic necessity and repression resulted in public anger against Maduro. However, he was able to retain his power with the support of the military and the judiciary. Until now, the only institution which checked his power was the National Assembly (AN) which has been the opposition's stronghold since 2015. The latest election-win by his coalition brings the AN under Maduro's political control.
Second, the long-standing differences between Maduro and Juan Guaido. In 2015, the opposition gained control over the AN by winning the election; however, it was unable to form the government. The pro-government court had stripped the legislature of power. It allowed for the creation of a parallel and all-powerful legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that constitutes of Maduro-loyalists. This set the stage for the power struggle between Guaido and Maduro. The 2019 election, both the process and results, were questionable. Guaido declared himself the acting President of Venezuela in 2019, based on the constitutional powers granted to him as the chief of the AN. But this was not enough to remove Maduro from power who still enjoyed the support of the military.
Third, the international opposition against Maduro. In 2019, the Organization of American States (OAS) during its 49th General Assembly called Maduro's presidency illegitimate. Guaido was immensely supported by the Trump administration and as many as 50 counties, and also the European Union. This support encouraged Guaido to declare himself the acting President; however, Maduro's government declared it as a coup d'état and accused the US of providing support to remove him and take control of the country's oil reserves. Guaido rejected the coup accusation, as he was backed by peaceful volunteers. Not only Maduro, but several Venezuelans were also unhappy by this action and saw the US support as interference in the country's domestic affairs.
What does it mean?
First, this may lead to intensifying of instability within the country. On 5 January 2021, Maduro will form the new government and Guaido will lose his position in the AN. However, the political conflict would continue, as neither he nor his party accepts PSUV's win.
Second, the international shunning of Maduro may push him further closer to his allies such as Iran, China, and Russia. The ongoing economic crisis and the pandemic's impact may further act as a catalyst for strengthening his relationship with these countries.