Home News How Venezuela’s leaders can stay in power, no matter what voters want

How Venezuela’s leaders can stay in power, no matter what voters want

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Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro is facing a watershed moment that will determine the fate of his rule and the course of his troubled country.

On July 28, the leader of this country with the world’s largest oil reserves but a severe economic crisis that has displaced millions of its residents will face his toughest electoral challenge since taking office in 2013.

Polls It shows that his main opponent, a man named Edmundo Gonzalez, Far ahead.

Mr Gonzalez has the backing of a fierce opposition leader. Maria Corina MachadoShe won over voters as she campaigned across the country with promises to rebuild democracy and reunite families separated by immigration.

On the other side is Maduro, a skilled political operator who has overcome unpopularity over the years by: Tilt the ballot box Good for him. He can win again with the same strategy.

However, there is an element of uncertainty: he could also fail and then exit peacefully and transfer power through negotiations.

Few Venezuelans expect him to do so. Instead, political analysts, election experts, opposition figures and four former senior officials in Maduro’s government who spoke to The New York Times believe that, based on his past record, he may be considering a variety of options to hold on to power.

They say Maduro’s government could disqualify Gonzalez or the party he represents, eliminating his only serious rival from the race.

Mr Maduro could allow the vote to go ahead but draw on years of Rigging elections to your advantage Suppress participation, confuse voters, and ultimately win.

But he could also cancel or postpone the vote, creating a crisis — a Border dispute escalates Alliance with neighboring Guyana is one option — as a pretext.

In the end, Maduro could simply manipulate the vote, analysts and politicians say.

In 2017, the country held a vote to elect a new political body to rewrite the constitution. Smartmatic, the company that provided the voting technology, Summarize result”no doubtwas rigged — the Maduro government reported at least a million more votes than it actually had. (Smartmatic cut ties with the country.)

Zair Mundaray, a former prosecutor in Maduro’s government who defected in 2017, said the country had reached a critical moment, adding that even Maduro’s followers “know that he is in the minority.”

Whatever Maduro does, the election will be closely watched by the U.S. government, which has long sought to oust Maduro, saying it wants to promote democracy in the region while also searching for a friendly partner in its oil business.

The Biden administration’s desire to improve economic conditions in Venezuela has intensified in recent months as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans NorthThis poses a huge political challenge to President Biden’s re-election campaign.

Maduro made it clear that he had no intention of losing the election and accused opponents of plotting a “coup” against him, telling a group of followers In a campaign “We’re going to win by knockout!” he said, and when that happens his opponents will surely call it a fraud.

Representatives for the country’s communications ministry and electoral commission did not respond to requests for comment.

Maduro, 61, came to power following the death of Hugo Chavez, the charismatic founder of Venezuela’s socialist project.

He had served as vice president when Chávez handpicked him as his successor in 2013. But many Venezuelans predicted he would fail. explain He lacks his predecessor’s oratorical skills, political acumen, military connections and public loyalty.

They were wrong.

Mr Maduro has weathered a prolonged economic crisis, with inflation soaring year after year. Up to 65,000%; several rounds of nationwide protests; multiple coups and assassination attempts; and an attempt in 2019 by a young lawmaker named Juan Guaidó to install a parallel government in the country.

He has successfully warded off challenges from within his inner circle. He has also responded to tough U.S. sanctions by strengthening business ties with Iran, Russia and China, and The International Crisis Group said: Allowing the generals and other allies to enrich themselves through drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Despite his dismal poll numbers, “he’s never been stronger,” said Michael Shifter, a longtime Latin American expert. wrote It was published last year in Foreign Affairs magazine.

But elections, which take place every six years, have perhaps become his biggest challenge.

Currently, the government is trying to manipulate the vote in the president’s favor.

Millions of Venezuelans who have fled to other countries — many of whom are likely to vote against him — face huge obstacles in registering to vote. For example, Venezuelan officials abroad refuse to accept certain ordinary visas as proof of residency for immigrants. according to A coalition of monitoring groups.

Electoral experts and opposition activists say between 3.5 million and 5.5 million eligible Venezuelans currently live abroad, a quarter of the total electorate of 21 million. But only 69,000 Venezuelans abroad are able to register to vote.

Watchdog groups say disenfranchising so many citizens amounts to widespread electoral fraud.

Efforts to sabotage the election are also taking place within the country.

The Ministry of Education said in April that it was changing more than 6,000 schoolswhich are common polling locations and may make it difficult for voters to find their designated polling place.

Voters will choose candidates from 38 boxes with their faces printed on them, and on an already complicated ballot, one of the lesser-known parties has a name and colors nearly identical to those of the larger opposition coalition backing Gonzalez, potentially diluting his vote.

Perhaps Maduro’s biggest electoral conspiracy was to use his control of the courts to prevent Machado, the country’s most popular opposition figure, from running in the first place. But she still used her popularity to run with González.

The opposition says Maduro’s government has targeted the movement. González said 37 opposition activists have been detained or gone into hiding since January to avoid detention.

Independent election monitoring will be minimal. Withdrawn the EU proposal To observe the election, only one major independent organization will monitor the voting. The Carter Centerheadquartered in Atlanta.

In an interview, Louis Lander, director of the independent Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, said that this election was one of the most flawed elections in Venezuela in 25 years.

Maduro has raised civil servants’ salaries, announced new infrastructure projects and Intensify His social media influence. The economy has improved slightly. The president has also been campaigning, Dance Voters across the country, portrayed themselves as socialism’s silly grandfather and laughed at those who doubted him.

He insisted that U.S. sanctions were the root of Venezuela’s economic problems, but that despite the country’s economic difficulties, the country’s socialist movement remains entrenched.

In its heyday, it helped lift millions out of poverty and had propaganda so powerful that many people would vote for the socialist cause even if they had problems with Mr. Maduro.

“This is not about one person, this is about a project,” said Giovanny Erazo, 42, at a recent voting event.

Others may vote for Mr. Maduro, believing it will bring help to their families. Long-term award-winning With boxes of food.

Even if Maduro disrupts the vote, it is unclear whether it would spark enough unrest to force him from office.

At least 270 people have been killed in protests since 2013. according to Protests by the human rights group Provea have deterred many from taking to the streets to protest. Many people frustrated with Mr. Maduro have voted by fleeing the country.

Some analysts say Maduro could work with Gonzalez to negotiate a favorable departure package if he fails to get his way on July 28. Maduro, who is wanted in the United States for drug trafficking and is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, wants to go to a country where he can be protected from prosecution.

But Manuel Christopher Figuera, former head of Venezuela’s national intelligence agency, said that was unlikely to happen. “Maduro knows that if he hands over power, while he can negotiate his exit, the rest of this criminal gang cannot.”

Figuera fled to the United States in 2019 after taking part in a failed coup by a faction of Guaidó’s party, the lawmaker who leads a parallel government.

Luisa Ortega, who served as the country’s attorney general under both the Chavez and Maduro administrations but fled in 2017 after criticizing the government, warned opposition figures not to fall into “fatal triumphalism.”

“A large number of votes against Maduro” could cost him the election, she said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean victory for us.”

Isayan Herrera María Victoria Fermín in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed reporting. Genevieve Glatzky From Bogota, Colombia.

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