Protesters in Venezuela this week called the main opposition party’s participation in socialist-controlled elections this year a “mockery,” as anti-socialist groups lament dwindling numbers from what were previously thousands-strong elections.
Dictator Nicolás Maduro has convened regional elections for late 2017, controlled by the National Electoral Commission (CNE), already proven to have doctored the results of the July 30 elections to create the “national constituents assembly” (ANC).
Maduro created the ANC, an unconstitutional parallel legislature, to replace the democratically-elected, opposition-held National Assembly. All candidates in the ANC elections were socialists—including Maduro’s wife and son—but the CNE felt compelled to doctor the results anyway, according to election technology company Smartmatic, to make turnout appear higher than it actually was.
The anti-socialist opposition have rejected nominating candidates for the gubernatorial and mayoral elections, now set for October, arguing that participating in the elections is legitimizing a CNE that experts have already proven fraudulent. On the other side of the debate are members parties of the Socialist International who control the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the main opposition coalition, who argue that they must not sacrifice the positions they currently hold through a boycott.
The debate appeared to have weakened an already beleaguered populace which has protested daily in Caracas since March. “This is the fault of opposition leaders,” Amé, a protester speaking to Agence France-Presse, said this weekend. “We began this because of them and they have practically left us alone—now they are saying the solution is an election? It makes no sense.”
Amé referred to the elections as a “mockery.”
“Our children gave their lives for freedom in Venezuela, not some governorships,” Zugeimar Armas, mother of Neomar Lander, told local outlet El Nacional. Lander, 17, died while protesting after the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) threw tear gas canisters at assembled protesters. “If the MUD is going to say ‘no more street protests,’ I hold them response for the deaths that there have been,” she added, suggesting that going to elections would mean an end to street protests and render the last four months meaningless.
The Argentine newspaper La Nación cites a recent survey this week finding that Venezuelans who oppose the government are at a 50 percent split on whether to participate in elections.
The MUD’s four main parties—A New Era, Justice First, Popular Will, and Democratic Action—nonetheless finalized applications for candidacies throughout the nation on Monday, generating praise from Maduro. Three of the four are member parties to the Socialist International; Justice First, the party led by National Assembly president Julio Borges, is the exception.
The ANC has banned the MUD from competing in seven of the nation’s 23 states, five of which they won landslide victories in during the 2015 election season.
“Thank you for believing in [CNE head] Tibisay Lucena and the CNE,” Maduro said this week.
— TVVenezuela Noticias (@TVVnoticias) August 14, 2017
The parties have made this decision even as the Socialist International itself condemned the July 30 election as fraudulent. “This election, in turn, did not meet the minimum requirements and guarantees to ensure that the vote was fair and its results credible,” a statement on the group’s website reads.
Henry Ramos Allup, a vice president of the Socialist International and head of the Democratic Action party, has insisted that going to elections is necessary. “Nobody here went out to protest for electoral abstention—on the contrary, they were demanding elections,” Ramos Allup said recently in response to criticism. He has previously argued that “if we don’t enroll in gubernatorial elections, chavistas will win 23 governorships via forfeit, and we would also lose 335 mayorships.”
Insiders within the MUD appear to be souring on its leadership, however. “The MUD needs a ‘boss,’ someone that can take charge of this and force us to discuss it deeply,” an unnamed MUD official told the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. The same report quotes a MUD “spokesperson” stating, “We are not up to the task of this moment. The difficulty in making decisions is the most concerning, because we take too long and that makes us look weak in the public eye.”
The MUD has largely failed in its objective of ousting Maduro, and lost significant support in 2016 by backing Vatican-mediated talks with the regime, which resulted in Maduro reorganizing his cabinet, more deeply entrenching Cuban military leaders into the government, and killing, arresting, and torturing more protesters.
The MUD has lost one member party over the debate so far: Vente Venezuela, led by opposition leader María Corina Machado, who was physically ousted by the Maduro government from her seat at the National Assembly in 2014.
“Venezuela is a failed state: ample territory controlled by mafias, guerrillas, organized crime. A threat to the region,” Machado wrote on Twitter Monday, urging an international plan to reconstruct the nation after socialism. Machado and her party argue that holding elections would legitimize the regime by disregarding the proof of election fraud which surfaced last month:
Venezuela es Estado fallido: amplios territorios controlados x mafias,guerrilla,crimen organizado.Amenaza p/ la región. #ActúenPorVenezuela
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) August 14, 2017