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Venezuela Opposition Joins Elections Despite Crackdown

August 10,2017 21:20

Venezuelan opposition parties, reeling after President Nicolas Maduro installed a legislative super-body that usurps the little power they had, will participate in gubernatorial elections this year, a choice they described as an act of defiance. Yet ...

Venezuelan opposition parties, reeling after President Nicolas Maduro installed a legislative super-body that usurps the little power they had, will participate in gubernatorial elections this year, a choice they described as an act of defiance. Yet Maduro’s allies made clear their authoritarian intentions, stating they decide who gets to run for office.

Nicolas Maduro

Photographer: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg
“The question is not whether we participate or not, but which decision contributes better to overcome this dictatorial regime,” Andres Velasquez, an opposition party leader, said Wednesday at a Caracas news conference held by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main coalition fighting Maduro’s socialist autocracy. “It’s our duty to participate. By not doing so, we would be validating the dictatorship.”
The Dec. 10 elections, which were to have occurred last year, come amid almost five months of anti-government protests that have left more than 100 dead and after Maduro installed a widely criticized assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. The so-called constituyente has since claimed supreme power, and one of its most powerful members said it would decide which candidates are qualified.
Diodsado Cabello, the second-in-command of the socialist party and a delegate to the constituent assembly, said that candidates must win its approval.
“If you think, embittered citizen sitting at home, that now you are going to go to write yourself in after you called out to set Venezuela on fire and traveled the world calling for a Venezuelan invasion, you’re mistaken,” he said on his weekly television program. 316528476
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, a top ally of Maduro, said on Twitter that the opposition’s decision to enter candidates for the regional votes was an admission of the government’s legitimacy. “The opposition has abandoned violence and is taking the way of elections and democracy,” he wrote.
Agonizing Choice
The opposition sat out the election for delegates to the constituyente and later accused the government of overstating results by millions of votes, a claim backed by the company that provides the government with voting machines. Maduro has said the body, which will sit for at least two years with no dissenting voices, will strip legal immunity from the national assembly that has opposed him. Members also plan to establish a “truth commission” that will function as a tribunal.
“It’s a tough situation for the opposition,” said Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. “They must continue trying to participate in all of the processes to increase their powers in a government that is increasingly less democratic.”
Sitting out the vote could be prove costly. Venezuela’s opposition boycotted elections under the rule of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, thereby ceding power to the government. In 2005, most of the opposition pulled out of parliamentary elections resulting in a near majority for Chavez in Congress.
The intended international backlash never occurred. The assembly then gave Chavez power to enact some of his most controversial policies, including abolishing term limits, land redistribution and nationalizing large swaths of the oil industry.
In 2015, after winning a supermajority in the national assembly, the opposition saw the body’s powers systematically challenged and ultimately stripped away by a supreme court loyal to Maduro.
Economy Erodes

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The move away from democracy has occurred as the economy, which had been buoyed by oil wealth, fell apart amid triple-digit inflation. Oil prices are half what they were just three years ago, and crude output has dwindled in a country that gets 95 percent of its export revenue from that one resource. Foreign reserves are at a 15-year low of about $10 billion -- and the nation and state oil company known as PDVSA are due to pay about $13 billion in debt before the end of 2018.
As society devolved into chaos and crime, Maduro has moved to consolidate power. The National Electoral Council is already taking pre-emptive moves to put the opposition alliance at a disadvantage in the 24 governor election, ruling that it can’t run candidates in seven of states, including the most populous one of Zulia.
But Jorge Millan, a lawmaker from the Justice First party, said in an interview that the parties must be a brake, and can make symbolic wins in a centralized regime.
“The government doesn’t want to be accountable,” Milan said. “They are holding elections to win a legitimacy they don’t have without us participating.”
The opposition’s path outside the electoral system is harrowing and risky. Protests are increasingly dominated by the most militant and violent protesters. This weekend, a group of dissident soldiers made off with firearms from a military base, promising an intensified struggle.
On Wednesday, the opposition stuck -- for now -- with ballots rather than bullets.
— With assistance by Nathan Crooks


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