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Venezuela Opposition Joins Elections Despite Maduro's Crackdown

August 10,2017 03:20

Venezuelan opposition parties plan to participate in regional governor elections even as President Nicolas Maduro and his allies continue a campaign of political persecution against them, persecution, a decision that dissident leaders cast as defiance ...and more »

Venezuelan opposition parties plan to participate in regional governor elections even as President Nicolas Maduro and his allies continue a campaign of political persecution against them, a decision that dissident leaders cast as defiance and the regime viewed as submission.

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 body has since claimed supreme power.
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.
“We are pleased because after three months of terror, 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 so-called 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.”
Venezuela’s opposition boycotted votes under the rule of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, thereby ceding power to the government yet never prompting the intended international backlash. In 2005, most of the opposition pulled out of parliamentary elections resulting in a near majority for Chavez in Congress. 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 Andrew Rosati, and Nathan Crooks
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