Why Venezuela’s Opposition Is Boycotting Congress Vote
(Bloomberg) -- Since 2015, Venezuela’s National Assembly has been the center of opposition to the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Juan Guaido, the man recognized by the U.S. and around 50 other nations as the country’s rightful leader, based his effort to oust Maduro on the support of a majority of the Assembly, widely considered the last democratically-elected body in the nation’s government. But Maduro seized control of the Assembly earlier this year, and its role as the last bastion of the opposition is likely to end in parliamentary elections on Sunday.
1. What are Venezuelans voting for?
Venezuelans are set to elect the 277 lawmakers who will make up the new National Assembly starting Jan. 5. The number of seats is larger than the current Assembly: Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, which Maduro controls, created an electoral council that increased the number of Assembly seats by more than half for this election.
2. What’s the status of the Assembly now?
The assembly has been under control of Maduro’s allies since January, when soldiers blocked Guaido and the majority of opposition lawmakers out of the building when a vote to re-elect him as the parliament president took place. Guaido continues organizing congressional sessions with his allies, most via webcast.
3. Who’s expected to vote?
According to the latest survey by Caracas polling firm Datanalisis, only 34% of Venezuelans say they are willing to vote, the lowest participation figure for such event in 10 years. Yet the regime could claim higher participation rates and will likely entice voters through food handouts and bonus payments. Maduro even promised to grant “special prizes” to the 100 communities with the highest participation rates.
4. Why the boycott?
The last Venezuelan election that was widely recognized internationally as free and fair was the 2015 National Assembly vote that put Maduro’s opponents in charge of the chamber. This year, the opposition pulled out of the vote citing the absence of observers from the United Nations or the European Union.
5. Who’s taking part?
Pro-government and several minority opposition parties are participating. Opponents worry that their presence will allow Nicolas Maduro’s government to claim legitimacy for the vote, thereby strengthening his authoritarian rule. In addition, the Supreme Court suspended between June and July the country’s main opposition parties, such as Democratic Action, Popular Will and Justice First, and handed them over to Maduro loyalists. That means these party names will appear on the ballot although they are now controlled by government allies, something that may confuse voters.
6. Why does this vote matter?
It is unlikely that the election of a new Assembly will lead governments who have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s leader to regard Maduro’s rule as legitimate. But it will complicate Guaido’s claim to power, since it was as an Assembly president that he proclaimed himself the head of a caretaker government pending new elections.
7. What’s Guaido doing?
He’s called for his own mostly virtual “anti-government referendum” in the second week of December. But its prospects will depend on the opposition’s ability to pull off its complicated logistics, avoid backlash from the government’s security forces and get fatigued Venezuelans to vote.
8. What could happen to him after Jan. 5?
Although opposition lawmakers will try to keep the current Assembly running, the government in the past has met such developments with force and threats of jail time. Opponents are also hoping from help from a new U.S. administration. President-elect Joe Biden voiced support for Guaido and said to NBC in September that Donald Trump’s policy toward Venezuela has been “an abject failure” that allowed Maduro to become stronger. While Guaido has so far denied any intention of fleeing the country, his close ally and mentor Leopoldo Lopez recently fled abroad after six years of jail and house arrest. Support for Guaido slipped to 30% in October from 61% in February 2019, according Datanalisis.
9. How’s Venezuela doing?
The country has been going through a severe economic crisis since Maduro came to power in 2013. The economy has shrunk 65% from 2015 to last year, and is expected to contract by a further 20% this year, with annual inflation of 6,639%, according to the Bloomberg Cafe con Leche index. The nation’s oil industry has collapsed, and water, electricity and gasoline are barely available. The country was relatively unscathed by the coronavirus, according to official figures. The government has reported 103,067 cases since March and 905 deaths, fewer than most peers.
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