It was no surprise that the ruling party won in the regional and municipal elections last Sunday in Venezuela. With results that do not modify the electoral map of the regional election of 2017. Nor was the high absenteeism of about 60% of voters unexpected.
The way in which the official institutionality in the country is conducted and the overwhelming weight of the Government in all this – including the state and private media – is behind it. Also that some opposition candidates had made it impossible to participate. None of this was a surprise. On this and other difficulties, the correct and weighted preliminary opinion of the European Union (EU) contains several references to the great imbalances that occurred in this area.
Absenteeism, for its part, may have to do with several factors (and it is not exclusive to Venezuela). With almost all the people in the country with whom I have been able to talk about this in recent days, they tell me that the key to absenteeism is a mixture of vital fatigue / exhaustion with the overwhelming pressures that people have to endure every day to fill the pot and survive. Also, the widespread perception that little would change after voting day.
More of the same? In appearance yes. The EU – which deployed 136 observers throughout the country – has stressed that “the arbitrary political disqualification of opposition candidates, the widespread use of state resources in the campaign and unequal access to the media continues.” It is no small thing.
But, in reality, between this election and the previous ones there are several important differences that, combined all, make the scenario have important novelties and challenges. Those who, if creatively assumed – and with the unity of the opposition – could influence the future. Taking into account the complex internal reality, the preliminary report of the EU includes several aspects from there. The first reaction of the US State Department, on the other hand, seems to be limited to echoing the rhetoric of the Venezuelan opposition sector in exile; more of the same, in short.
Four lights and shadows of what is being different in this election.
First, international observation. After a succession of electoral processes with an almost total absence of independent auditing, there was not only a mission from the European Union (EU), installed in the country for several weeks. Also, among others, with the Carter Center, an internationally respected independent entity, through a technical mission of international electoral experts to evaluate the electoral process and which began working remotely from the end of October.
Second, a National Electoral Council (CNE) that, for the first time in several years, is not one-color or 100% official. Two of the five members are independent and have been able to correctly carry out their role during the campaign and the subsequent counting process. In the preliminary opinion of the EU this Tuesday, this CNE is considered the “most balanced of the last 20 years.”
Third, the first participation of the opposition forces since 2015. The EU report highlights “the return of the majority of the opposition parties to the elections in Venezuela”. It is, looking to the future, perhaps one of the most important signs of versatility and ad hoc response in a situation that is, by the way, adverse to it. But with two great weaknesses: those who participated did so divided and part of the opposition was left out, by their own decision.
Fourth, the context of international political negotiations – temporarily suspended by the “Saab events” – and of conversations in Venezuela that have had a lot to do with the three previous aspects. But, as experience in dozens of countries indicates, it is usually the only way out of a situation of political, social and institutional entrapment to the extent that it is articulated with a unified internal opposition. The dreams of some of an unthinkable external military intervention or a magical coup d’état should have already faded.
The difference between this election and the previous ones is not, therefore, in the result of the calculation, which was not unpredictable nor does it change the political and institutional situation. It is in certain questions and challenges that, if answered creatively, could have the effect of influencing the substantive course of things.
The opposition appeared – again – fractured, divided and, what is more serious, disconnected from the population, as most analysts on the ground affirm. In the institutional and political context of the country, it was known that the opposition had to walk uphill and in the face of great obstacles. But the great Achilles heel is their inability – before and now – to join, a requirement sine qua non to move forward in an adverse context.
Looking ahead, at the same time, the scenario will not be able to be properly understood if this electoral scenario is disconnected from the talks sponsored by Norway today suspended. That they are the only “really existing” negotiating framework and that it should serve as a framework for a common opposition agenda that manages to change some things. The conversations will or will not be relevant, of course, not only because of the agenda -already established- that guides them, but to the extent that they are articulated both with effective opposition cohesion efforts and with the agenda of the people in the face of emergencies. people’s daily lives.
Taking into account several compared experiences, only within these parameters can an important space for the accumulation of forces be found that reaches concrete results. Taking into account, moreover, that certain external conditions may strengthen the possibility that the talks – temporarily suspended – will resume and turn into real negotiations. It could also be a space for the Government, not only in the face of a complicated sanctions scheme. Also due to the prospect of a process in the International Criminal Court for the investigation that its Prosecutor is already promoting, which should already lead, among other things, to effective internal actions for the operation of the national justice, about which something has already been announced. but with few repercussions yet.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.