Venezuela’s Maduro Warns Opposition Against Election Boycott
November 2, 2017
On 2 November Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro announced that the pending municipal elections would be held in the country on 10 December and he criticised the announcement by the three main opposition parties that they would boycott them, threatening to bar them from taking part in the presidential election due next year if they do so.
Significance: President Maduro’s announcement comes two days after representatives of Primero Justicia (PJ), Voluntad Popular (VP) and Acción Democrática (AD), three of the largest parties that make up the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) main opposition coalition, announced that they would not be fielding candidates in municipal elections, after what they claim was a fraudulent electoral process ahead of the 15 October regional elections. Maduro also described the MUD’s approach to resolving the country’s deep political crisis as incoherent.
- Some constituent parties of the MUD, notably VP, have called for primary elections to choose a single opposition presidential candidate for 2018. It is hoped that this would provide greater coherence and clarity of direction within the MUD. However, the individual ambitions and competing political programmes of the various MUD parties mean that this will be difficult to achieve.
- The ambitions of the MUD to unite behind a single leader and strategy will be challenged by President Maduro’s threat that parties refusing to participate in the municipal elections could lose their legal status and be barred from future elections, including next year’s presidential election. This may well generate a similar split to that which occurred when four of the five MUD candidates elected as governors on opposition slates in the October regional elections chose to defy their party and swear allegiance to the national constituent assembly (ANC) convened by the Maduro government, which the MUD considers illegal and does not recognise.
- Yesterday, President Maduro announced that he had asked the national electoral council (CNE) to take “draconian measures” against those political parties attempting to “sabotage” the municipal elections. Members of the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) also called for the CNE to imprison opposition politicians who refuse to participate in the elections. PSUV leader Jorge Rodríguez stated that the offence of prohibiting the exercise of political rights – punishable by up to 30 months’ imprisonment in Venezuela – includes a ban on propaganda discouraging people from voting.
- Meanwhile, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced yesterday that he would be opening an investigation into various unnamed individuals accused of undermining state institutions and calling for bloodshed. Saab also stated that he would be asking the supreme court (TSJ) to remove those public officials who refuse to accept the authority of the CNE and are calling for a boycott of the municipal elections.
- President Maduro also took the opportunity yesterday to announce the fifth increase of the minimum wage this year, which, along with allocations of food vouchers and the state pension, will increase by 30%. The president added that a ‘Christmas bonus’ payment of BF500,000 (US$150 at the official exchange rate) would also be made to 4m households this year, and that each child would receive a toy and each household 6kg of pork shoulder over the holiday season. In depicting the MUD as those attempting to destabilise the country, Maduro is also taking care to present himself as the benevolent leader caring for his people, and thus hoping to bolster his legitimacy.
- Finally, Maduro also announced that a new BF100,000 bank note will enter into circulation today (2 November), as parts of efforts to contain Venezuela’s rampant inflation. Maduro blamed the high domestic inflation and cash shortages on an economic war being waged against Venezuela by foreign countries and led by Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos: there is widespread black-market trading of the bolívar on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. President Maduro added that he hoped that by 2018 his government would find a definitive solution to the problem of inflation, most likely by largely eliminating cash transactions.
Looking Ahead: The likelihood of the MUD reaching a consensus over a strategy for December’s municipal elections and the 2018 presidential election was already low, but the announcements by President Maduro may force some opposition members to recalculate their options: although an electoral victory in December is unlikely, by boycotting the municipal elections they now risk losing the chance to force a change in government through electoral means next year.
This feature was provided to EMIA by our editorial partner LatinNews.