Venezuela held stage-managed parliamentary elections on Sunday, putting another nail in the coffin of opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s two-year quest to drive President Nicolás Maduro from power.
The result of the election – overseen by Maduro cronies on the electoral council and the supreme court, boycotted by the opposition and occurring without neutral poll watchers – was a foregone conclusion.
Loyalists, including Maduro’s son Nicolás Maduro Guerra and wife Cilia Flores, will take their seats next month in the National Assembly, increasing the power of the president over the body which Guaidó led until recently, and to which he will no longer belong.
In truth, Maduro had long ago stripped the assembly of power and banned key figures from opposition parties, draining the political process of any authenticity. Guaidó presides over little more than a symbolic claim to the presidency run out of a bedroom in his Caracas apartment and supported with declining enthusiasm by dozens of countries, including the United States.
Sunday’s feigned election, ending Guaidó’s connection with the legislature that formed the basis of his claim to the presidency, may be what some need to rethink how to deal with the one-time oil power that is now a humanitarian disaster zone run by a tight clique backed by Cuba and Iran. It also poses a dilemma for US President-elect Joe Biden, offering a diplomatic opening in which he’s expected to stay tough on Maduro yet help broker a democratic transition.
Venezuela’s crisis is being felt far beyond its borders: five million have left and are spread across Latin America in need of jobs and education, taxing societies struggling with Covid and economic slumps.
“Maduro comes out victorious, with both Trump and Guaidó out next year. Other countries will stand by him for the time being, but eventually they will come to recognise Maduro as head of state because there is no-one else there,” said Caracas-based political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas.
The election, which drew some 31 percent participation, was part of Maduro’s drive to push aside genuine challenge to his rule while leaving room for loyal opposition parties to maintain the illusion of democratic politics.
“It doesn’t matter if the turnout was very low, the election only seeks to ratify Maduro’s government by force,” said political scientist Ángel Álvarez.
With no real opponents and widespread apathy, the government won about 68 percent of the votes, according to the electoral council. The rest of the votes were mostly taken by splinter opposition groups and parties traditionally run by Maduro opponents which were ordered to be taken over by the top court ahead of the election. The new assembly will take over on January 5.
Besides Maduro’s son and wife, in the new National Assembly will be Diosdado Cabello, considered the second in command of the government, and several Maduro’s allies such as Iris Varela, Tania Díaz, Mario Silva, Didalco Bolívar and Gladys Requena, according to the first report of the electoral council.
Scarce crowds made their way into voting centres at schools across Caracas on Sunday, where masked voters were able to quickly cast their votes after having their hands sprayed with disinfectant. In the sprawling western slum of 23 de Enero, few trickled into the Manuel Palacio Fajardo school, where the late Hugo Chávez used to vote.
“I’m here because we desperately need our economy to improve,” said Carlos Aguilar, a 72-year-old retired electrician who depends on measly pension payments. “Even though the government handouts help, it’s not nearly enough.”
Guaidó and his allies boycotted the election, citing the absence of international monitors. The Lima Group of nations, the United States and the European Union rejected the election’s results, generally citing unfair conditions.
The government tried to boost turnout through cash payments and food handouts. Maduro even promised to grant “special prizes” to the 100 communities with the highest participation rates.
“It’s a mistake to not participate, I don’t like to see electoral centres this empty, because if we want a change we have to vote,” said 40-year-old Dayana Rios from Palo Verde, a working-class neighbourhood near Petare, Caracas’s biggest slum.
The economy is suffering through its seventh straight year of contraction, with food shortages and annual inflation of 6,600 percent.