Home News Can elections force Venezuela’s authoritarian leader to step down?

Can elections force Venezuela’s authoritarian leader to step down?


The stakes couldn’t be higher.

In July, Venezuela voted for an opposition candidate in a presidential election for the first time in more than a decade, with a slim but unlikely chance of victory.

In the midst of an economic and democratic crisis over seven million As Venezuelans abandoned the country – considered one of the world’s largest displacements – the country’s authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro did something few thought of: allowing opposition candidate and appear on the ballot with widespread support.

Although little known, the challenger is leading in multiple opinion polls, underscoring how many Venezuelans are hungry for change.

Still, few have any illusions that the vote will be democratic or fair. Even if a majority of voters vote against Maduro, there are widespread doubts that he will allow the results to become public — or accept them if they do.

As Venezuela prepares to vote, the country is facing major issues that extend far beyond its borders.

These include overseeing the fate of the country’s vast oil reserves, the world’s largest; resetting (or not resetting) damaged relations with the United States; deciding whether Iran, China and Russia can continue to rely on Venezuela as a key ally in the Western Hemisphere; and confronting inner humanitarian crisis This plunged a once prosperous country into great misery.

A victory for Maduro could push Venezuela further into the hands of U.S. adversaries, deepen poverty and repression and spur more people to move north to the U.S., amid a surge in migration that has become a central theme in November’s presidential election. election.

His opponent is former diplomat Edmundo González, who became the unanimous opposition leader after the election of popular leader María Corina Machado candidate. Banned by Mr Maduro’s government From running.

His supporters hope he can help the country leave behind 25 years of Chavismo, a socialist movement that began with the democratic election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 and has since become more autocratic.

Ahead of the July 28 vote, Maduro, 61, controls the legislature, the military, the police, the judicial system, the National Electoral Commission, the state budget and much of the media, not to mention violent paramilitary gangs called collective.

Mr. Gonzalez, 74, and Ms. Machado, 56, made it clear they were a package deal. Ms Machado, who has been rallying voters at events across the country, is treated like a rock star, fill city blocks With people make emotional pleas Save the country for her. Gonzalez maintains close ties with the capital, Caracas, holding meetings and conducting television interviews.

Gonzalez said in a joint interview that he was “surprised” when Maduro allowed him to register as a candidate, but still did not clearly explain why.

Although Mr Maduro has held elections in recent years, a key strategy has been to ban legitimate challengers.

The last competitive presidential election was in 2013, when Maduro narrowly defeated longtime opposition figure Henrique Capriles. The government barred the country’s most popular opposition figures from running in the next vote in 2018, with the United States, the European Union and dozens of other countries refusing to recognize the results.

But Ms. Machado said that in recent months, the country had witnessed a series of events that few thought were possible: The Maduro government allowed the opposition to hold primaries, with high turnout and Ms. Machado becoming a visible the winner; the opposition, notorious for infighting, managed to coalesce around Ms. Machado; and when she was unable to run, opposition leaders rallied behind her successor, Mr. Gonzalez.

“Never in 25 years have we entered the electoral process in such a strong position,” Ms Machado said.

(Both declined to say what role, if any, Ms. Machado might play in Mr. Gonzalez’s administration.)

Three polls conducted in the country showed that a majority of respondents planned to vote for Mr Gonzalez.

In more than a dozen interviews conducted in different parts of the country this month, voters showed broad support for the opposition.

“He will win, I have no doubt about it,” said Elena Rodríguez, 62, a retired nurse in Sucre state. Ms Rodriguez said 11 family members had left the country to escape poverty.

Mr Maduro still retains some support within Venezuela and can motivate people to vote by promising food and other incentives.

Jesús Meza Díaz, a 59-year-old supporter of Maduro in Sucre, said he would vote for the current president because he believed he could lead the country to solve economic problems, which he would Blame it on U.S. sanctions.

Perhaps the most important question, though, is not whether Gonzalez can attract enough votes to win, but whether Maduro is ready or willing to give up power.

Maduro’s government is suffocated by U.S. sanctions on the country’s vital oil industry, and some analysts say he allowed Gonzalez to run only because it might help him persuade Washington to ease sanctions.

“I think the negotiations with the United States made the electoral process possible,” said Luz Melly Reyes, a prominent Venezuelan journalist.

Mr Maduro has given little indication that he is ready to leave office. He promised his legions of followers in February that he would win the election”by hook or by crook“.

His government has detained and imprisoned 10 members of Ms Machado’s political team since January. Five others have been issued arrest warrants and are currently hiding at the Argentine embassy in Caracas.

Avi Roa, the wife of Emill Brandt, the leader of Ms Machado’s party, who has been detained since March, called her husband’s arrest a “terrible horror” “. Irama Macias, the wife of jailed Machado ally Luis Camacaro, called his detention a “very cruel thing” that “should not happen anywhere in the world.”

Laura Deeb, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, said a proposal in the Legislature called the Anti-Fascism Act could allow the administration to suspend Mr. González’s campaign at any time. “This is an ongoing risk,” she added.

If Maduro does relinquish power, it will almost certainly be the result of a negotiated withdrawal agreement with the opposition.

Machado has said repeatedly that her main challenge is getting Maduro to realize that remaining in power is unsustainable – his government is running out of funds, too many Venezuelans want him to step down and Chavismo is imploding from within .

“The best option is to negotiate an exit,” she said in the interview, “and the later it gets, the worse it will be.”

The country’s economic situation is dire, most of Maduro’s supporters are against him, and there are signs that Maduro fears internal rupture: He recently betrayed a senior ally, Oil Minister Tareck El-Aissami , and imprisoned him on corruption charges.

The move was seen as a warning to anyone who might challenge him from within.

But few think Mr Maduro is so weak that he will be forced to leave.Mr Maduro has a strong incentive to hold on: He and other officials in his government are under investigation by the International Criminal Court crimes against humanity.So is he Wanted by the US governmentthe organization has offered a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

If Maduro does leave the presidency, he will almost certainly want immunity from prosecution, but that may be difficult to guarantee.

Still, Ms. Machado and Mr. Gonzalez expressed in joint interviews a willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition with Maduro’s government before the election.

“We are absolutely willing to move forward and put forward all the necessary terms and guarantees so that all parties feel this is a fair process,” Ms Machado said.

A senior U.S. official said there was no indication that talks were underway to remove Maduro from power.

But the official added that Maduro’s government remains in talks with U.S. officials and the opposition, a sign that Maduro continues to seek international legitimacy and sanctions relief. That could lead him to change his stance, the official said, providing a glimmer of optimism for the country’s future.

Isayan Herrera Reporting from Caracas, Venezuela; Nayrobis Rodríguez from Cumana, Venezuela; and Genevieve Gratsky From Bogotá, Colombia.

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