Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: A new day in Venezuela?

Venezuela’s Dec. 6 congressional elections will be the most undemocratic Latin America has seen in recent history, with the exception of Cuba’s. And yet, the opposition is likely to win the popular vote by a landslide, triggering what may be the beginning of the end of the country’s corrupt socialist regime.

The election rules set by Venezuelan government-controlled National Electoral Tribunal, or CNE, couldn’t be more unfair. The CNE has written the rules in such a way that the opposition must win more than 60 percent of the popular vote and dodge dozens of dirty tricks to win a majority in Congress.

It’s no coincidence that President Nicolás Maduro is not allowing credible international observers from the Organization of American States nor the European Union. Maduro’s CNE will only accept a delegation of friendly visitors from South America’s UNASUR group, which independent election experts say will do little more than political tourism on election day.

A study released last week by the Andres Bello Catholic University of Venezuela and International Institute for Democracy and International Assistance lists a series of irregularities that go far beyond the massive use of state funds by government candidates, government control of the media, intimidation of voters, arbitrary bans on opposition leaders from running for office, and imprisonment of political leaders, such as Leopoldo Lopez.

According to Venezuela’s election laws, sparsely populated states that traditionally vote for the ruling party will enjoy much greater representation in Congress than much more populated states controlled by the opposition. For instance, the 1.1 million population Lara state, where the opposition is strong, will elect only two legislators, the same as the 87,000 population pro-government Amazonas state.

In addition, electoral ballots are printed to confuse opposition voters. The logo of the opposition coalition, known by its acronym MUD, is placed on the ballot sheets right next to an almost identical logo with similar initials, but that corresponds to a camouflaged pro-government party.

And yet, pollsters say that the opposition will win by a huge margin because of Venezuela’s economic and social collapse. The country’s economy has contracted a whopping 8 percent this year, its nearly 200 percent inflation rate is the highest in the world and there are widespread food shortages.

A new poll by the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis, which in the past has predicted government victories, says 63 percent of the popular vote will go for opposition candidates, while only 28 percent for government ones.

Alfredo Croes, of the Venebarometro polling firm, told me that even with the disproportionate representation rules, the opposition is likely to win 103 seats in the 167-seat Congress. That would be more than the 84 seats the opposition would need to have a simple majority that would enable it to control the country’s budget, and to start corruption and drug-trafficking investigations.

My opinion: Until recently, I used to think that Maduro would stage a self-coup before Dec. 6, concocting yet another conspiracy theory about alleged destabilization plots by the United States, Colombia and even Guyana as an excuse to cancel the elections.

But it may be too late for that. Friends in Venezuela tell me that given the widespread anti-government sentiment, Maduro would risk a social explosion if he cancels the vote.

Granted, if he allows the vote, Maduro could still stage a post-election coup. He may decide he cannot allow an opposition-controlled National Assembly to start investigations into government corruption and drug trafficking. He may try to control the new Congress, either by buying off opposition legislators or by significantly curtailing the new legislature’s powers.

But, this time, it won’t be easy for Maduro to get away with dictatorial measures. Things have changed. With world oil prices at record lows, he has less money to buy loyalties at home and abroad. Financially crippled Brazil is beginning to distance itself from Venezuela, and Argentine polls show that opposition leader Mauricio Macri — an open critic of Maduro’s authoritarianism — is poised to win Sunday’s elections. Venezuela may no longer count on South America’s biggest countries to validate its electoral abuses.

For the first time in many years, Venezuela’s opposition may have the upper hand, and may go on the offensive after Dec. 6.

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” at 9 p.m. Sundays on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español

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