Venezuela’s political environment has been rather tumultuous lately. On April 13, Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by the narrowest of margins: roughly 265,000 votes, according to official results.
Public protests thereafter ensued while the opposition’s call for a recount was deemed unconstitutional, the National Electoral Council (CNE) instead opting for an “audit” where physical voting receipts are compared with what the system’s electronic record. The odds of the election being overturned in favor of Capriles are slim to none; however, the populace’s blatant discontent with the results portend future support for the centrist politician’s cause, which Capriles must maintain at all cost.
The audit is an obvious slap to the face to Capriles and his supporters, who must keep passive to stay strong. By no means does the audit seek to reverse the election results; rather its primary intent is to verify that the machines work correctly and make sure that the receipts correspond with what is in the system. Most recently, CNE Vice President Sandra Oblitas made it clear that the audit process may increase the effectiveness of the voting system, but will not change the election results.
The rapid emergence of violent protests in Caracas following the disputed April election demonstrate the dormant political tension present in Venezuela. The country’s chief prosecutor admitted to seven deaths and over sixty injured in anti-Maduro protests on April 15, yet circumstantial details regarding deaths occurred were conveniently withheld.
Capriles must condemn violence protest as a means for his supporters to contest the outcome of the election. The protests prompted Maduro and Capriles to play the blame game but the latter has far more to lose; with the military, courts, and other officials at his backing Maduro is looking for any reason to forcefully quell the opposition party. Encouraging peaceful and diplomatic negotiations with the party in power is Capriles’ most effective way of becoming president come 2019.
The responsiveness of the military's mobilization in Caracas should give Capriles insight into Maduro’s agenda and abilities. He would rather crush the opposition rebel events and have Capriles thrown in jail, thereby extinguishing the flame that was burning for the upheaval of a political system riveted to strict statism. The chief of national prisons, Iris Valera, in a statement Tuesday mentioned her “preparation” of a cell specifically for Capriles. Valera’s apparent party allegiance hopefully frightens Capriles away from acting rash, as her support of Maduro’s regime is unlikely to be an anomaly amongst government officials.
The population’s rapid response to Maduro’s victory is a testament to the population’s declining support of the Chavismo regime which, as pioneered by the military populist Mr Chávez, sought to nationalize companies’ assets and use the revenue from the newly state-run monopoly’s on health and food programs for the poor. While Venezuela has seen improved quality of life indicators over the past ten years, over 30% of the country remains above the poverty line, indicating that government expropriation of private firms is not the ideal solution for the country’s economic woes.
Maduro, if he is to govern anything like Chávez (likely to happen given his campaign strategy oriented around authentic Chávez impersonations), will fail to ameliorate Venezuela’s economy. Despite the high market price for the mainstay commodity, oil, the country is increasing indebtedness which eventually could lead to recession. The present value of Venezuelan issued government bonds are steadily falling as investors increase their risk premium, worrying the country won’t make good on what it owes.
Maduro may be in the seat of power, but with economic stagnation and social unrest, the power of that seat is dwindling. Capriles should sit tight for a better shot at victory, and the chavisimo political ideology will slowly do itself in.