Venezuela’s disputed election

Nicholás Maduro’s power has strengthened in Venezuela, but many see his victory as fraudulent

Photo by Reuters

— 2 minute read– by Sam Feierabend

On 6th December 2020, Venezuelans voted in an election for the country’s expanded National Assembly. The result fell in favour of President Nicolás Maduro, significantly strengthening the Socialist Party leader’s grip on power. Previously, the National Assembly had 167 seats but President Maduro announced that this would be extended to 277 seats for this election.

Mirroring the US’s system of multiple political chambers, the National Assembly of Venezuela can be controlled by any party. It had been in the hands of an alliance of opposition parties since 2016, meaning that this was the only chamber not under the control of Maduro’s Socialist Party. The President of the National Assembly (and leader of opposition), Juan Guaido, was shocked to hear the announcement of the extension of number of seats and called for a mass boycott of the polls.

27 parties signed an agreement to not take part on the grounds that the “free and fair” conditions that are imperative for elections did not exist. Guaido claimed that Maduro was attempting to wipe out all semblance of democracy in one swoop. Maduro on the other hand claimed that the assembly had created problems regarding the management of the Venezuelan economy and international relations, whilst also preventing more foreign investment for the country’s oil industry.

Venezuela is in a deep political and economic crisis – suffocated by runaway inflation; paralysed in endless queues for fuel; lacking water and gas supplies; and afflicted by sudden power cuts. Since November 2019, inflation has soared to 4,000% and it is estimated that up to 5 million people have fled the country in recent years – the world’s largest migration after the Syrian refugee crisis. Venezuelans feel disconnected towards politicians. Many did not bother turning up to polling stations, feeling that the result was already set. This was reflected in the poor voter turnout of 31 percent.

Unsurprisingly, with no true opposition running, Maduro’s Socialist Party emphatically won 67% of the seats in the National Assembly. Despite the large opposition boycott, around 14,000 candidates from more than 100 political parties contested the election which completely obliterated any chance of a solid opposition campaign.

The U.S. and EU refused to recognise the election as a legitimate vote, largely because of the failure to mobilise the Venezuelan people to participate. As Guaido’s term as leader of the National Assembly legally ends in January 2021, there is hope that a re-election can be held under legal conditions and a path to national reconciliation can be charted out.

With similarity to power grabs throughout history, Maduro has played the political system of Venezuela in his favour, simultaneously taking advantage of a politically weak population to increase his control of the nation. Maduro’s actions have added to a long list of issues within South American socialist politics, and whether Venezuela can be saved by a democratic solution remains to be seen.