“Even if there is rain, thunder and lightning, the presidential elections will take place on May 20,” Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro assured his supporters, announcing the start of the electoral campaign on Monday.
At the same time, it seems that the perfect political storm against the Venezuelan president and the elections which should be a reconfirmation of his mandate has already begun. The Frente Venezuela Libre, which brings together dozens of organizations in the opposition, has called the electoral process “a farce.” They coalition has decided not to run any candidates and has appealed to all Venezuelan citizens to boycott the polls.
There were rumblings of thunder from the United States as well. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on Monday in front of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), sent a message to Maduro to cancel the presidential elections, calling them “a farce and a fraud,” and asked the OAS to suspend Venezuela’s membership (in addition to proposing new sanctions against the country). This request was supported by the OAS Secretary, Luis Almagro, who is showing himself more and more deserving of the title Fidel Castro once gave him: “the Minister of the colonies of the United States.” He has been well-received among the right-wing governments of Latin America. Even the European Parliament called last week for the “immediate suspension” of the Venezuelan presidential elections.
“This is an intolerable interference,” said Tibisay Lucena, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council, during a “trial run” of the May 20 elections that took place last Sunday. The ballots with the names and faces of the candidates have already been presented. The photograph of Maduro, who leads the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), which includes his PSUV party and nine other formations ranging from the Venezuelan Communist Party to a Podemos whose name is a wink and a nod to the eponymous Spanish group, appears 10 times, as he is the candidate for each of these parties.
The photo of his main opponent, Henri Falcón, appears four times. Falcón is a lawyer, ex-military man and former Chavez supporter who left the PSUV in 2010. He’s the former governor of the state of Lara and now leads the Avanzada Progresista (Progressivist Advance) party and is supported by three other groups.
Each of the other three candidates—the evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci, the independent Luis Alejandro Ratti and the engineer Reinaldo Quijada, leader of the Unidad Política Popular 89 (Popular Political Unity of ’89)—appears once.
All four of Maduro’s opponents promise a generic “change” from the years of Chavez’s rule. They are now being accused by the opposition’s anti-Maduro Frente of having been “converted into a collaborationist opposition,” or indeed of running for the sole purpose of trying to give legitimacy to an electoral process which—according to the MUD, the opposition that controls the Parliament—is rejected by the majority of the population.
The main object of these barbs is Falcón, the “progressive” candidate who is proposing not a head-on confrontation with Maduro but rather a “national dialogue” with the Bolivarian movement to bring about a transitional government, in addition to the “dollarization” of the economy to fight the runaway inflation, which, according to the opposition’s data, is at 872.2 percent. A poll by Datalesis making the rounds in Caracas—to be taken with a grain of salt in such a fluid situation—gives Falcón as the front runner, with 41.4 percent of the prospective vote to Maduro’s 34.3 percent.
However, the most powerful adversary that the government must contend with is in fact the apathy, if not the complete indifference, of much of the population toward the elections. In the Datalesi poll, 40 percent of citizens would choose not to vote. This is clearly seen on the streets of Caracas, where there are very few political ads of any kind—signs, posters or murals. And there is even less of a political debate. The times of mass mobilization in the past—even violent, with the guarimbas—are now only a memory. The difficulties of everyday life, and the scarcity of food and medicine, are the most prevalent topics being discussed on the social networks.
In the face of this situation, the opposition’s call to boycott the vote seems more and more like an expression of political impotence rather than an actual political position. Thus, a possible victory by Falcón and the consequent ousting of Maduro (but without any grand expectations) is starting to be advocated as an aim by the moderate part of the opposition.
Maduro himself finds the possibility of a highly dangerous adversary useful to emphasize. “Falcón says he will win. But afterwards, he will deliver the country to the gringos,” railed the Venezuelan president in a speech in the state of Vargas.