By Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – The electoral challenge that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was able to elude this year will continue to be present in 2017, amid an economic crisis that does not give way, worsening by the day. The opposition, which perceived as a setback that the recall referendum was blocked, hopes to regain the confidence of its supporters.
Theoretically they will have at least two tests in 2017: regional elections (governors) in June and local (mayors) in December, which have not been formally convened. The governor elections were scheduled for December 2016 but were put off by the government for at least six months.
The opposition reached a clear majority in the legislative elections at the end of 2015. However, a string of rulings by the Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro supporters, overturned its functions and formed a power struggle that threatened to spread. The head of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, was among the leaders with more support.
Meanwhile, Maduro’s free fall in popularity sharpened in December, when he decided to suddenly withdraw the 100-bolivar notes from circulation, leaving Venezuelans with no liquidity, as the new family of currency had not arrived either.
Meanwhile, Maduro hopes that an agreement between OPEC and producers outside the cartel, which will take effect in January with a production cut, will boost the price of the oil barrel and increase the revenue that allows the expansion of public spending and imports.
The Venezuelan economy went through a very dark year in 2016, with an estimated decline of at least eight percent of its GDP and inflation of more than 600 percent. “2016 has been the most difficult year of the Bolivarian Revolution, but we end up with a recovery and progress in all fields,” said Maduro.
The year 2016 was key for the recall referendum raised by the opposition: being the third year of the president’s mandate if successful it would have meant the departure of Maduro by electoral route with new presidential elections. Starting January 10, 2017, the situation will change, because if Maduro leaves office due to resignation or electoral defeat (a recall referendum), the vice president will occupy the position until the end of the term, in January 2019.
The opposition was unable to collect the signatures of voters to activate the recall referendum in 2016 due to legal ploys by criminal courts dominated by pro-government judges.
Venezuela is Cuba’s main economic and political ally. The economy of the island suffered a significant decline in 2016, largely due to the inability of Caracas to supply the same level of cheap oil to Havana and maintain the tens of thousands of Cuban professionals working in social programs in Venezuela under contracts paid to the Castro government.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles assumed responsibility for not having obtained the achieved the voter consultation and indicated that the mistake was to have fallen into the “trap” of dialogue with the Government, which generated expectations and then stagnated. However, Capriles said the referendum is not dead and could be resumed.
Analyst Félix Seijas of the polling firm Delfos said that Chavismo enters 2017 with a series of uncertainties, while the opposition will have a new direction for the change at the helm of the National Assembly, which will move from hard line opponent Ramos Allup to the more moderate style of Julio Borges.
Seijas stressed the importance of January 10 as a key date for Maduro. From then on, “the scenario changes, it will move on to a new stage, with an internal battle to impose the most powerful group in Chavismo,” he told dpa. “The opposition, for its part, enters the year with great popular support, in a scenario in which the government is weakened internationally,” he added.
He indicated that if the elections scheduled for 2017 are not held, the opposition must take advantage of the political cost that this represents for the government. Over the years, “the government has had a competitive authoritarianism, while it has been able to win the elections.” Now, losing its electoral competitiveness, it does not care about the elections, its perspective is not to make elections, if there is nothing that forces them to hold them, they will put them off.
He estimated that with his current levels of popularity, Chavismo would not win any election in Venezuela. He added that the surveys of the firm indicate that 90% of those surveyed said that the country’s situation is bad and that only 18 percent consider the management of Maduro positive.
The opposition, for its part, failed to activate an electoral mechanism this year, despite holding 112 of the 167 seats of the National Assembly. Neither did their proposal for moving up the presidential elections or a draft constitutional amendment, both nullified by decisions of the Supreme Court.
Analyst Fernando Mires said in the debate portal Prodavinci that the task of the opposition in 2017 will focus on the struggle for elections. “The opposition is facing not only a dictator, but a whole system of political and military domination. That is the Venezuelan tragedy. With Maduro or without Maduro, the system continues.”
In 2016 there was also an attempt at dialogue between the government and the opposition, facilitated by the Vatican and Unasur, which stalled at its second meeting, due to protests over the government’s failure to comply with the agreements. The opposition insisted on calling for the release of imprisoned politicians, respect for the autonomy of the National Assembly and acceptance of the electoral consultation, which went unanswered by the Government.
In 2017, the opposition majority in the Assembly will not give Maduro a truce and beginning January will denounce the abandonment of his duties as president, to insist on his eventual dismissal. Borges will replace Ramos at the head of the legislature by an agreement of the majority bench. In one of his first messages to Maduro, he went straight to the point calling on the president to resign.