In Venezuela, the Only Thing an Election Changes is Everything

The left has lost Venezuela, and now we must see what the ‘right’ way of doing things is
Abeer Kapoor Delhi

“The loss of the elections is a result of an economic crisis and the propaganda of the opposition”, the Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to India, Augusto Montiel said in New Delhi today. In a landslide victory, a coalition of right-wing parties Mesa De La Democratica Unidada (MUD), defeated the incumbent Pardido Socialista Unido da Venezuela (PSUV). The former opposition secured a thumping majority in parliament winning 99 of the 167 seats. The incumbents managed only 46. 

The elections, which concluded on 6th December were the 20th elections of the country in the past 17 years. Recording an extremely high voter turnout, this election was touted to change the 'crumbling institutions of the state'.

Background 

The run up to the elections have been mired in controversy. The country has faced a major economic crisis since the death of President Hugo Chavez two and a half years ago. Chavez had come to power in 1998 and served for four terms till his untimely death. Nicolas Maduro, who had been appointed by Chavez, succeeded him and has led the government since 2013.

The economic crisis that hit the country after the death of Chavez was severe. Plummeting oil prices coupled with an informal strike by the local entrepreneurs artificially curbed production, making the situation in the country dire. The Venezuelan economy heavily relied on oil exports, which in turn became the sustainer of the prosperity of the country. Now with the falling prices, the economy has crippled under the lack of demand. However, to reduce the economic crisis to just oil is reductive.

The exchange rate for the currency of the country ‘Bolivar’ on paper is 6.5 to one dollar. However, rampant black marketing has led to a severe inflation, pushing up the informal exchange to 800  Bolivars traded for one dollar. This unequal exchange rate has spiked the prices of essential goods and basic necessities. As a result items such as toilet paper, food items are missing from people's households . This scarcity has only benefitted hoarders and the situation has snowballed into growth of crime throughout the country.

The incumbent party had failed to rein in the crisis and has suffered for it. A systematic media trial has followed the failings of the government both inside and outside the country. The American media has likened Maduro to a dictator and has claimed that even if he were to lose he would not rescind power.

The increase in crimes has been attributed to the desperate efforts of the PSUV to cling on to power. This isn’t where the media campaign against the government stops, but a growing interference from the US has exacerbated the crisis. Hilary Clinton had declared that the elections would not be free and fair, most America news portals had accused the Venezuelan election to be a farce. Moreover, the military had threatened to mediate.

The ‘Organisation of American States’ had threatened to boycott the country on grounds that the elections were rigged. In response, the Venezuelan media has sought to clarify the transparency of their system.

Most of western mainstream media has sought to paint the image of the country as one where socialist policies have led to greater poverty and precipitation of the crisis. That under the dictatorial rule of the socialists, the economy has reached the limit of the populist policies initiated by Chavez and the policy of appeasement has created a glass ceiling. 

The promise of breaking the glass ceiling is central to the opposition’s attempt to end the period of Chavismo. This is followed with the promises of bringing more business into the country and creating jobs for the youth. The MUD stitched a narrative that spoke to the many youths who were out of work. It is indeed true that many factories have shut in the country and a large labour force is unemployed. Even the “community living” propagated by the Bolivarian project has failed in ensuring livelihoods or relief from being cash strapped.

Riding on the wave of ending the economic crisis, the MUD has also rung a chord with first time voters. This year’s voting was driven by anti-incumbency where all the problems of Venezuela got attributed to the Maduro government. However, there is growing acceptance that the PSUV did indeed falter in the management of the crisis.  

Outcomes: 

This election will have a major impact in the geopolitical dynamics of the region. The right-wing parties were emboldened by the recent win in Argentina, and will put the progressive governments under pressure. While talk of the end of ‘popular governments’ in the region goes, we will have to wait and see, but two consecutive losses in the span of two months will shake the progressive movement.

Venezuela had so far been leading the South American voice for the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean. This integration would have posed a counter to the US-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership. This move will now take a blow.

The PSUV will have to get back to the drawing board. They will have to see where they went wrong and what contributed to their loss. The MUD on the other hand, will now have to re-build a country- stabilise its economy, generate employment and simultaneously cut down on the crime rate.

While, it stands in opposition to Venezuela  post-Chavismo, a policy regime by the MUD, contrary to the populism initiated by the beloved leader will only lead them into troubled waters.

What has been proven today, however, is that the Venezuelan electoral system is transparent, and Maduro is not a dictator.