Maduro’s Rule Strengthened after Venezuelan Elections

Luis Vicente Leon, director of Datanalisis: “Abstention was huge, but the opposition is fractured.” Capriles’ challenge is to articulate the electoral struggle.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – “I’m not very optimistic, and I don’t envision a radical change in the next two or three years,” warns Luis Vicente Leon, director of the Datanalisis polling company and one of the most respected political analysts of Venezuela. He assesses the impact of the December 6th elections, which allowed President Maduro to regain control of the National Assembly.

In an election questioned by the opposition, due to the lack of guarantees, transparency and the disqualification of parties and candidates, there was an abstention of 70% of the electorate. With the support of only 20% of the registered voters, Chavismo got 227 of the 251 deputies of the National Assembly.

“From a political point of view, the winner ends up being the government,” said Leon. Because despite the allegations of illegitimacy, it will now control parliament.

The analyst believe that in 2021 the former governor of the state of Miranda and former presidential candidates Henrique Capriles, will fight to demand participation in the regional elections of governors. “Under the thesis that participation, even under inadequate conditions, would allow some of the opposition to obtain positions of power and visibility that can help a future struggle.”

Will that strategy work? Leon gives his opinion in an interview for the “Esta Noche” program and Confidencial. “I’m not very optimistic, but I think that is what will happen,” he said.

Photo: EFE/ Miguel Gutiérrez

Maduro and Chavismo won with 20% support

What is the political result of the legislative elections that took place on December 6th in Venezuela? The Government says that it now controls the National Assembly, and the opposition denounces fraud and huge abstention. Who is the winner?

From a political point of view, the winner ends up being the government. Beyond the debate, the Government controls what it wanted to control, which is the National Assembly. While not recognized by the countries that do not recognize Maduro, it allows the Assembly to validate itself with his allies: China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran. These are the countries he does business with, because he is sanctioned [by the US].

He hopes his allies will feel secure that this Assembly can validate the oil agreements, the energy agreements, more fluidly. But the second reason is more important still. This election exacerbates the fracture in the opposition. It also somewhat weakens the position of their international allies in the face of the institutional opposition, and that of interim president Juan Guaido.

Abstention was huge. Of course, within Chavismo they must be concerned because what they obtained was only 20% of the registered voters.

This result was predictable. It is no surprise to anyone. The opposition argued that there were no conditions for a transparent and competitive election. Was this a unanimous decision or just by Juan Guaido’s leadership? What was at stake for the opposition, if this is what was going to happen?

No, it was not a unanimous decision. However, in the end, it ended up as unanimous in the G4, which is an important institutional piece of the opposition and led by Juan Guaido. But there was strong opposition, which was never in agreement to abstain from participating. It wasn’t because they didn’t think the election was flawed. Everyone was clear about the inadequate conditions of this election. But many felt that the electoral struggle, the political struggle, must be played on all fronts, even in a non-competitive election.

The abstention proposal won out. The question is aha, and now what? What do you do with that abstention? How do you turn that abstention into change?

The opposition is calling for a popular consultation. Is this a symbolic act, or can it be a platform to resume pressure in the streets against the Government?

There is no way to resume the pressure of the streets if you don’t generate hope for change. Only 16% of Venezuelans believe that the opposition is capable of removing Maduro from power next year. You are asking people to make sacrifices: to go out, to take risks, to be imprisoned, to be killed, to have the food bags or coupons taken away. In other words, that is a sacrifice. For you to ask for a sacrifice you need to have two things which are not there.

First, a solid leadership that motivates people, and you don’t have a leader that will move them. The second very important ingredient is hope. Why am I going to take a risk if I do not think it will work? The alternative is adapting to it, which is what is happening in Venezuela right now.

To the contrary, there’s the idea that an authoritarian government like Maduro’s cannot govern without international recognition. And these elections did not have recognition by the OAS or the European Union. Can Maduro continue in power without democratic legitimacy, without international legitimacy?

Absolutely. Moreover, we have already seen it. We are speaking of Venezuela as if it were new, that Maduro is not recognized by congress. By God! Before Guaido, the Assembly was headed by  Ramos Allup, the first president, and it could never issue a law that was abided by. All laws were rejected by the Supreme Court and afterwards it declared him in contempt. There was no administrative act of control or audit. Maduro replaced that void with the Constituent Assembly and the Supreme Court, and with that he governed. Today he is stronger than in February 2019.

The Challenge for the opposition

But he is governing in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the history of Venezuela. A humanitarian crisis, and with only 20% of political support. You have mentioned that institutional control, but he also has the support of the Armed Forces. What is the fundamental pillar that allows Maduro to remain in power?

The first is the absolute absence of an opposition coordination for a struggle that allows to pressure on political negotiations. And I think, without having the negotiating force and not having much willingness to negotiate either. So, for now, we are still far from the real possibility that Maduro will be in danger. I think that the opposition has actually helped Maduro.

Next year in Venezuela there will be elections for governors. Later a window opens with the possible calling a recall referendum of the president. How do you reach a negotiation? If Maduro won’t yield, or negotiate on his own, this would have to come from great national and international pressure.

I am not very optimistic. And I don’t think that we are going to have a radical change in the next two or three years. That is my personal perception. But I will give you a possible scenario for the question. Indeed, in the year 2021 there will be elections for mayors and governors; the opposition has mayors and governors. They, basically now, will go to that election. And, furthermore, they are actors that will control regions, zones, resources.

I believe Henrique Capriles will end up articulating a strong fight to demand participation in the regional elections under the thesis that abstention leaves you with nothing. And participation, even under inadequate conditions, allows the opposition to place itself in positions of power and visibility that can help a struggle in the future. Likewise, they’ll obtain something it does not have at this moment, and that is the Biden Administration.

In the Biden Administration, they will be more interested in seeing the Venezuelan issue multilaterally and not unilaterally. That will bring them closer to the European Union, the contact group, the Norwegian negotiators, to seek a solution through a negotiation.

In other words, going to the elections even if Maduro is in power, even if there is no change of government. And the second is that the Democrats have much more interest in humanitarian issues. I think there might be some flexibility that may lead to seek negotiations against sanctions. In some way, the issue of the life of Venezuelans, in exchange, perhaps, for some better electoral conditions.

With the departure of President Trump, is the Venezuelan opposition hoping that the Biden Administration or the European Union will exert strong pressure against the Maduro government? Or will they [the opposition] assume their responsibility, in the sense that the ball is rather in the Venezuelan court?

There is the great debate. The interim government [under Guaido], the institutional opposition, ended up completely dependent on the international position. It does not have an internal struggle apparatus. It has become dependent on the United States position, which is its main ally.

Maria Corina (Machado) is as dependent as Guaido, because she puts forward the thesis that the only way to get Maduro out is to send in the marines. For the international community to take out the Venezuelan Government by force. That is the climax of external dependency.

The only one here who is stronger on the issue of opposition rehabilitation is Henrique Capriles. He is also a very solid actor in the existing groups of mayors and governors. And remember that his is in the most important opposition party in the Assembly. So, I think there will be an attempt to rescue Capriles’ leadership, which will go beyond the internal coordination and the pressure to negotiate. Seeking international support, but not following international instructions. Instead, using it as a condiment and support of what we are living in this moment.

Will it be successful? I go back to the beginning; I’m not very optimistic, but I think that’s what’s going to happen.

Read more interviews here on Havana Times.