Yesterday, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE – Consejo Nacional Electoral), Tibisay Lucena, announced that presidential elections would be held on Sunday April 22. Both representatives of the opposition and the government, who have been meeting in the Dominican Republic to address the political and economic crises engulfing the country, agreed on this date. Soon after consensus on the date was reached however, the talks disintegrated over disagreement about the conditions of the vote itself. The opposition has refused to sign the draft agreement proposed by the government and has accused the ruling party of refusing to allow a free and fair vote in April’s elections.
This follows the announcement of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly last month that a ‘snap’ presidential election would be held in April. President Nicolás Maduro had previously indicated that he would be seeking another six-year term and this week, the ruling socialist party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) officially announced that Maduro would be their candidate. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December and the decision of the Constituent Assembly to hold an election so soon in April appears to be part of a wider government strategy of electoral manipulation to ensure that they remain in power.
Indeed, Nicolás Maduro is the clear favourite to win the election. Registration of the candidates will begin on February 24-26 and campaigning will only be allowed for three weeks between April 2 and April 19. The most well-known opposition figures, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López are unable to stand in the election; Capriles is barred from office and López is currently under house arrest. Notwithstanding the very short notice and opaque electoral rules, the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), is also just in poor shape to contest an election. Henrique Capriles announced before Christmas that he was leaving the MUD coalition in response to the decision of four MUD governors to swear allegiance to the Constituent Assembly following gubernatorial elections last October, which was suggestive of a larger schism among the opposition.
On top of all this, it is not even yet clear if the opposition will be able to take part in the election at all. In December, the Constituent Assembly adopted a decree that stated that political parties that wish to take part in elections in Venezuela must have been active in prior elections. The reason that this is significant is because a broad swathe of the opposition, following the October gubernatorial elections, agreed to boycott December’s municipal elections. By refusing to take part in the municipal elections, the bulk of the opposition may have provided the Constituent Assembly and the CNE with an excuse to bar them from April’s presidential elections.
Only one realistic opposition candidate has emerged: Henry Ramos Allup, who at 74, is the former leader of the National Assembly. His party, Acción Democrática, is still eligible to run in the election although he has not yet indicated whether he will take part or not.
Regardless, given the Maduro regime’s willingness to follow the electoral authoritarian playbook, it seems likely that even if the opposition can unite behind one, eligible candidate, it will be nigh on impossible to unseat Nicolás Maduro.