Election primer | Venezuela’s 2015 parliamentary election

The Data Team

 

 

ON DECEMBER 6th Venezuela is scheduled to elect a new National Assembly. It will not end the authoritarian left-wing rule of chavismo, the ideology inspired by the late president Hugo Chávez. Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s current president, is not due to face the voters until 2018. But the election could be a turning point nonetheless. Polls suggest that the opposition Democratic Unity alliance (MUD Unidad, or simply MUD) is on course to take control of the legislature. This would be a severe blow to the regime, which has won every election since it took power in 1999.

When oil prices were high, the chavistas showered the poor with subsidised goods and social spending. But the recent energy slump, coupled with economic mismanagement, have pushed the economy into a deep recession and driven up inflation. Price controls on basic consumer goods have led to rampant black marketeering and shortages, which force people to queue for hours. Crime and corruption have reached epic proportions. Mr Maduro’s popularity rating is on the order of 20-30%. The MUD is about 20 percentage ahead of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) in the polls.

But the task for the MUD is not straightforward. Although chavistas have been loth to steal elections outright, Mr Maduro’s government has been weighting the odds further in favour of the PSUV, which won a much bigger share of seats than votes in the last parliamentary election. Nine leaders of the opposition have been banned from running and at least four are under house arrest or in jail, including Leopoldo López, one of the most prominent. In April Venezuela’s supine electoral authority assigned extra representatives to districts where the government is strong. The ballot paper is deliberately confusing: the government has put up a party, called the MIN Unidad, to siphon votes away from the MUD. Mr Maduro raised the minimum wage recently to soften voters’ hostility to his government. The MUD’s lead in the polls has recently narrowed.

Despite the doubts about the fairness of the vote, it will not be properly monitored. Mr Maduro rejected a proposal by the Organisation of American States to send a mission. An observation team from the Union of South American Nations has a limited remit. Brazil pulled out when Venezuela rejected Nelson Jobim, a former president of its supreme court, as its leader.

Even so, the MUD’s lead is so big that it is likely to win control of the National Assembly for the first time since Chávez became president. The size of its win matters. With a simple majority of the 167 seats, the MUD would be able to block the government’s budget. With a “supermajority” of two thirds, it could begin to loosen the regime’s hold over institutions such as the supreme court. A voting block that size might embolden the opposition to push for a referendum to recall Mr Maduro from office before his term ends.

What will happen once the votes are counted is anyone’s guess. If the opposition loses, it may take to the streets to protest the results. If it wins big, radicals could press their advantage by seeking an immediate recall of the president. Mr Maduro has warned of violence if his party loses. Coexistence between an opposition-controlled parliament and the current regime is hard to imagine. But confrontation could turn ugly indeed.