The World Today for May 15, 2023


The Ephemeral Ballot


Venezuelan voters are supposed to go to the polls sometime next year to elect a new government. It’s not actually certain that a ballot will be held, however. That said, as Americas Quarterly wrote, even if an election is held, “chavismo” – or the legacy of the country’s late leader, Hugo Chavez – has severed the link between elections and democracy in the South American country.

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest proven reserves of oil. Proceeds from oil sales funded Chavez’s socialist experiment in the early 2000s. Today, however, its economy is in a shambles. Market dynamics played a role when oil prices collapsed a decade ago, noted the Council on Foreign Relations. The pandemic didn’t help, either.

But the main causes are mismanagement, corruption, and sanctions from the US and other countries because of the government’s human rights abuses and other issues, as the Congressional Research Service explained. President Nicolás Maduro, who has held office since Chavez died in 2013, has restricted Internet access, cracked down on political dissidents and prosecuted critics who question his rule. Most Venezuelans live on less than $2 a day. More than seven million have fled the country in recent years.

The US has also seized assets belonging to Citgo, the US-based Venezuelan oil company, held in American banks. Critics portrayed the seizure as “Western pillaging.”

Maduro and the opposition – led until late last year by Juan Guaidó, a former parliament speaker who declared himself acting president in 2019 – have been holding talks in Mexico to discuss a potential orderly transition of power if voters kick out Maduro in upcoming elections. Those talks have stalled, however, reported Reuters.

The opposition, meanwhile, can’t agree on the rules for a primary election where their voters could choose a candidate to challenge Maduro, added El País. Without a single primary, multiple opposition leaders might run, giving the incumbent an advantage. “The resulting vote-splitting could be catastrophic,” wrote the Spanish newspaper.

Still, Maduro might be worried. He recently launched a crackdown on corruption, reported Al Jazeera. The powerful oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, recently resigned amid allegations that he embezzled $3 billion, the equivalent of a third of the government’s annual budget. Authorities also arrested 44 others in the state oil company PDVSA. The president of the state-owned mining company, Pedro Maldonado, was also detained along with other high-profile officials.

As Global Voices wrote, Maduro orchestrated the crackdown to distance himself from the corruption that he has overseen and his allies have allegedly perpetrated.

That might be wise if he hopes to be competitive in any upcoming race, say analysts. On the other hand, he might not take any chances and just disallow any vote at all.

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