University of Memphis

Competitive Authoritarianism in Venezuela: The Corruption of the Maduro Regime by John Blake Stayton @ University of Memphis

The regime of Nicolas Maduro is one that is troubled with patterns of corruption and oppression towards its people. Like his predecessor Hugo Chavez elections have continued to take place. However the legitimacy of these elections has been and is still in question. This year in May of 2018, Venezuelans will take to the polls to re-elect Nicolas Maduro as the countries President. Currently Venezuelan currency has been rendered worthless and is often used as toilet paper because in many cases it is a better bargain than actually buying toilet paper. In these economic conditions any incumbent from a true democracy would be faced with a nearly impossible task of winning a free and fair election. Venezuela is not a free and fair democracy. The Maduro Regime will manipulate the election and continue its power through the framework of what is known as competitive authoritarianism.

The current regime in charge of Venezuela is a result of the populist movement of Hugo Chavez in the late 1990’s. Chavez essentially passed his regime unto Maduro after his death in 2013. Venezuela is an oil rich nation that suffers from a resource curse. Despite being geographically situated atop a resource gold mine the average Venezuelan struggles to meet their basic needs. Chavez tapped into the frustration of the ordinary Venezuelan in the 1990’s and pointed to the countries vast oil reserves as the countries path to prosperity. However, with the fluctuating prices of oil in the years that followed his election, many of his promises of prosperity were unfulfilled. Chavez was able to hold on to power in Venezuela and eventually pass it on to Maduro through a form of competitive authoritarianism. He would allow opposition parties to run against him but made the road to power extremely difficult through many different forms of suppression. In the free world it is commonly believed that economic performance is the strongest indicator of an incumbents chances of holding onto power as reported by the New York Times. Venezuela’s economy has fallen to shambles under Maduro, so one might ask how he maintains power. The answer is simple; he suppresses the media and opposition parties while manipulating the election process.

The 2018 presidential election was slated to begin in December 2018. A number of diplomats and mediators tried to negotiate a deal with the Maduro regime to allow election monitoring from un biased outside institutions. This was shut down and the election date was moved up to May.This rejection of transparency is a key tactic to the regime maintaining its power. A result of this lack of transparency is a lack of faith in the election process. According to the Delpho Institute 55% of Venezuelan citizens who think there needs to be change in the government will not go to the polls in the upcoming presidential election. The reason why is because they see no reason to vote in an election that is likely rigged from the beginning. The countries lack of faith in its electoral system and government institution is a clear sign of democratic erosion.

The election process has been questionable for a long time and the lack of transparency is a key factor. Many Venezuelan citizens are faced with intimidation at the polls and even if they do cast a ballot for an opposition party, it is likely to not matter as a result of electoral manipulation. Since the people have as much faith in the countries elections as they do the Maduro regime a climate of immense distrust is created. People in Venezuela are not satisfied with their government, but believe they can not overthrow it through a peaceful election. So whats the result? Protests and riots in the street. Often times dissenters of the regime are thrown into jail and subject to extreme uses of force. This creates an environment where Venezuelans are held captive by an authoritative dictator. Venezuela is so detached from the international community that outside forces such as election monitoring are not an option. If democracy is going to be restored in Venezuela it will start at the polls. However the likely hood of the Maduro regime bringing fairness and transparency is slim to none. This is evident by the manipulation of the 2018 election dates and the refusal to allow outside institutions from monitoring the election.


  1. Nicole Wells

    May 7, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    Competitive Authoritarianism is such an interesting term. It is contested in the field, it is sometimes called illiberal democracy, partial democracy, semi authoritarian etc.. The authors Levitsky and Way who came up with the term Competitive Authoritarianism argue that calling it anything other doesn’t really get a the regime type. The key aspect in this term is the contestation of power. In competitive authoritarian regimes incumbents could be unseated in elections. I wonder though, is Russia and Hungary counted as competitive authoritarian? Could Orban and Putin actually lose power? Or are they full blown authoritarians that hold elections for legitimacy in the international community? Is competitive authoritarianism on the rise? Will more states fall prey? Do democratic states that suffer from erosion become competitive authoritarian regimes? I will be interested to see if Levitsky and Way will have anything to say on this new phenomenon. And how they might connect it to Levitsky’s work on How democracies die.

  2. Leslie Palomino

    April 11, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    It is true there is no fair democracy since the Maduro Regime has manipulated the citizens of Venezuela, election, and members. It has become clear to Venezuelans the democracy has shifted to a dictatorship. A similar situation has occurred before when Chavez hired loyalist for the board of oil production now Maduro has hired loyalist for the new constituent assembly. The constituent assembly will have total power to change any existing constitution and create a new legal order. Chavez has broke his promises with the people likewise Maduro therefore the people are no longer listening to what their president has to say rather than how the president expects to overcome the crisis.

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