HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelans began voting on Sunday in parliamentary elections designed to place the country’s only opposition-controlled government institution in the hands of President Nicolas Maduro and his Socialist Party, reports dpa news
More than 20 million people are eligible to elect 277 members of the National Assembly, 110 more than in the outgoing parliament.
The main opposition parties are boycotting the elections, headed by opposition leader Juan Guaido who entered a power struggle with Maduro soon after being elected parliamentary speaker in January 2019. Dozens of countries recognize him as Venezuela’s interim president.
Maduro won a second term in 2018 elections widely criticized as undemocratic. In that vote the main opposition coalition was not allowed to participate. The hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez has presided over an economic meltdown. – Hyperinflation, acute goods shortages, a minimum wage of and a plunge in oil production – which has driven about 5 million Venezuelans to flee abroad.
Crack down on the opposition and the independent media
He has also cracked down on the opposition, with UN investigators accusing the government of grave human rights violations, including thousands of killings by security forces.
Independent media has been another target of the government repression with dozens of radio, TV and print newspapers forced to cease informing.
The opposition parties following Guaido’s lead have dismissed the elections as fraudulent. The European Union refused to send observers to monitor the vote, which the United States and the Organization of American States also criticized as lacking democratic guarantees.
Government food hand outs depend on votes
Socialist Party chief Diosdado Cabello sparked concern this week by warning that “those who do not vote, do not eat,” in a reference to food aid to impoverished families.
Maduro meanwhile pledged to resign if the opposition won the elections – a statement critics interpreted as reflecting his certainty of a resounding victory.
The opposition parties which are following Guaido’s lead have called on Venezuelans not to vote.
But the opposition leader is seen as having been weakened after his confrontational strategy against Maduro failed to oust the president, including an unsuccessful military uprising in 2019, a botched raid by mercenaries in May and international sanctions.
Guaido is now also set to lose control of the National Assembly. He called a referendum for December 5-12 to gauge his support, with questions such as whether the voter rejects Maduro’s “usurping” of power and the elections.
More moderate opposition parties are participating in the elections amid uncertainty about the extent to which they could challenge the government in parliament and replace the Guaido camp as the country’s main opposition.
Waiting for Biden
Guaido’s future will partly depend on whether the US changes its policy on Venezuela after president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The Maduro government had earlier moved to facilitate its takeover of the National Assembly, with the compliant Supreme Court replacing the leadership of the electoral council and of some opposition parties.
The National Assembly had previously been sidelined by the pro-government Constituent Assembly, which Maduro created in 2017 and whose term is due to expire in December.
[Editor’s Note: Holding elections without opposition is a trademark of the Cuban electoral system, copied in essence by the Venezuelan model. In Nicaragua, a similar system has been in place the last 5 years. The rulers of all three of these country’s seek permanent power and the benefits that entails. By holding elections, no matter how fraudulent, they seek international recognition and legitimacy for their one-party rule.]