Venezuela’s political opposition more toothless than ever in election year

By Alicia Hernandez

Caracas, Jun 5 (efe-epa).- Venezuela’s opposition parties have been devastated by Supreme Court rulings and National Electoral Council (CNE) decisions, with most of them currently ineligible to compete in legislative elections that – coronavirus permitting – are to be held this year.

“There are greater obstacles every time for seriously competing. In Venezuela there’s a hegemonic authoritarianism. There are growing restrictions on opposition parties. Elections are not competitive,” said political scientist John Magdaleno, director of the public affairs consulting firm Polity.

Several experts consulted by Efe said that while Venezuela’s government had already been employing mechanisms against its opponents prior to 2015, it put up greater electoral obstacles after the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly, the unicameral legislature, in elections that year and then in 2016 launched a campaign aimed at recalling leftist President Nicolas Maduro (then half-way through his first term in office).

“Absolutely irregular things (occurred) that coincided with the growth of the opposition,” said Ignacio Avalos, director of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV), an independent local election monitoring group.

One key move against Maduro’s rivals came in January 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) – an umbrella group of various leading opposition parties – had failed to meet the requirements of a political party revalidation process and ordered the CNE to exclude it from that year’s presidential balloting.

Several other opposition groupings also were barred from the 2018 election for the same reason.

Even before the opposition parties were barred from that election, they had already been stymied by Maduro’s move in 2017 to sideline the National Assembly through the creation of a plenipotentiary body known as the National Constituent Assembly.

The Supreme Court also has altered the boards of directors of some parties via its rulings.

“It’s not that they annul the party. Rather they hand it over to directors who are less confrontational with the government or openly support the government,” Vicente Diaz, a former rector of the CNE, said.

That occurred with Copei, a Christian democratic party, and with parties that had splintered off from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) such as Fatherland for All and the Podemos (We Can) party.

But it is not only the parties that are facing obstacles.

“There’s persecution of the leaders. Some are jailed; others have had to flee into exile,” Magdaleno said.

In 2017, the national comptroller barred two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles – then the governor of the northern state of Miranda – from holding political office for 15 years for allegedly failing to submit a budget document to state authorities in 2013.

Nearly a decade earlier, when Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez (1954-2013), was in power, the leader of the right-wing Popular Will party, Leopoldo Lopez, was barred from holding public office.

Lopez was later found guilty of public incitement to violence during anti-government protests in 2014 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Looking ahead to legislative elections that may take place this year depending on the evolution of the coronavirus situation in Venezuela, Diaz said several steps must be taken to ensure their legitimacy, including the election of a new CNE, the authorization of opposition parties and broad international monitoring.

Venezuela’s opposition has potent allies, with the United States having imposed crippling sanctions on the country’s lifeblood oil industry and Washington and some major European nations supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to be the country’s legitimate president.

Maduro, however, has the backing of China, Russia and dozens of other countries in his political battle against an opposition that seems increasingly rudderless and powerless. EFE-EPA


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