Venezuelan democracy at a point of no return: The 2018 Venezuelan presidential elections by Jarell Insang
Since the death of President Hugo Chávez in 2013, President Nicolas Maduro has presided over Venezuela as head of state with what some would call, an “iron fist”. Through the use of presidential decrees and the manipulation of other branches of government, Maduro has been able to secure his power within government, amidst a world of economic downturn, civil unrest, and widespread opposition. Thus, the results of the May 2018 presidential elections can be viewed as the “sum total” of a consistent deterioration of democratic principles that has grown since Maduro’s rise to power.
Elections were held in May 2018. It was recorded that less than half of Venezuela’s 20.5 million registered voters participated in the election. Polls reflected Maduro capturing 68% of the popular vote, defeating opposition candidates Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci. Prior to the election, Maduro made haste in ensuring his success through the rather blatant suppression of his adversaries; using methods that scholars such as Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt would consider a “rejection of democratic rules to the game”. Ziblatt and Levitsky suggest that one violation involves the attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections or suggesting a need for anti-democratic measures. Widely recognized as “Pro-Maduro”, members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that parties that did not participate in the 2017 mayoral elections would not be eligible to participate in the 2018 presidential elections. Surely, the Supreme Court ruling prevented Maduro’s main opposition parties—Popular Will, Justice First, and Democratic Action—from taking part in elections. In addition to the injunction placed on opposition parties, it was also noted that President Maduro deployed forms of “democratic backsliding” such as strategic harassment against his eligible opponents as well as vote buying. On Election Day, close to 13,000 pro-government sections referred to as “red spots” were assembled near polling stations. In addition, voters that were poor or struggling were asked to produce a state-issued “fatherland” card to be scanned at tents after the voting process in order to receive gifts from President Maduro.
The results of the election garnered much controversy. The Lima Group, comprised of fourteen countries of South American, Caribbean, North American origin, boldly expressed their renouncement of the election, suggesting that they unfair and illegitimate. The United States government also voiced their dissatisfaction of the election, expressing that they did not recognize the election as being legitimate.
The tactics deployed by Maduro in the 2018 election were commonplace, to say the least, during his time in office. His manipulation of government institutions through individual ties and friendships would help to quench threats to his leadership. Elections for positions within the National Assembly were hosted in 2015. The election generated three lawmakers who opposed the policy preferences of President Maduro—appointments that would lead to a supermajority against him. In 2016, The Supreme Tribunal of Justice—heavily composed of Maduro’s advocates—deemed the 2015 elections as irregular and invalid. Thus, the three newly elected officials were unauthorized to enter the Assembly. Despite the verdict, the National Assembly swore these officials into office. The Tribunal accused the National Assembly of being in contempt of court, usurping the legislative powers of the Assembly until a resolution was made. When a referendum was created to have President Maduro removed from office in 2016, the National Electoral Council suspended the referendum days before signatures were to be gathered. The referendum was eventually cancelled on the grounds of voter fraud. Maduro’s use of executive aggrandizement is evident through his ties to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the National Electoral Council. His influence over the Electoral Council ultimately suppressed the interests of those he presided over. Thus, the low voter turnout rate in the 2018 election can be viewed as the activation of what Almond and Verba would call the “passive attributes” of Venezuelan citizens.
President Maduro was sworn into office for a second term on January 10, 2019. The issue of hyperinflation in Venezuela continues to grow. In 2018, the country’s hyperinflation rate reached to 1.37 million percent. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s inflation rate is expected to surge by 9 million percent in 2019.
Levitsky, Steven. How Democracies Die. Random House US, 2019.
Cohen, Luc. “Venezuela’s Maduro Re-Elected amid Outcry over Vote.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 21 May 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-election/venezuelas-maduro-wins-presidential-vote-election-board-idUSKCN1IL05U.
Zuñiga, Mariana, et al. “U.S. to Defy Venezuelan Order for American Diplomats to Leave Caracas in 72 Hours.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Jan. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/opposition-launches-protests-to-oust-maduro-as-us-venezuela-tensions-rise/2019/01/22/0416687a-1e4f-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html.
Wyss, Jim, and Jim Wyss. “Lima Group Says It Won’t Recognize Maduro’s New Term as President of Venezuela.” Miamiherald, Miami Herald, 4 Jan. 2019, www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/venezuela/article223932475.html.
Venezuelan National Assembly Dissolved by High Court – CNN. www.cnn.com/2017/03/30/americas/venezuela-dissolves-national-assembly/index.html.
Cawthorne, Andrew. “Venezuela on Edge after Anti-Maduro Referendum Blocked.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 22 Oct. 2016, www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-idUSKCN12L1EZ.
O’Grady, Siobhán, et al. “Venezuela’s Crisis in 5 Charts.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Jan. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/world/venezuelas-crisis-in-5-charts/2019/01/26/97af60a6-20c4-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html.