Venezuelan president secretly offers regional elections to appease growing opposition

A group of women, one holding a sign that reads in Spanish “Freedom” march during an anti-government protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 13, 2017.
A group of women, one holding a sign that reads in Spanish “Freedom” march during an anti-government protest in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 13, 2017. AP

Cornered by growing social unrest, the embattled regime of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is secretly offering the opposition a deal that would lead to gubernatorial elections this year in exchange for phasing out street protests being held against him and claims that he perpetrated a self-coup, sources close to the negotiations said Friday.

The highly controversial proposal looks attractive to a small sector of the opposition — one traditionally less hostile to the Chavista regime — on the theory that they could easily gain the country’s governorships even though that would mean leaving Maduro in power until after the presidential election is held in December 2018.

“The government, in its desperation, is offering to hold regional elections by the end of the year and to leave the presidential election and the election of mayors and city officials for the next year,” said one of the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The offer, which would essentially lay the groundwork for the opposition to coexist with the regime for the next 20 months, would also require the opposition to stop claiming that Maduro headed a self-coup that did away with the constitutional rule of law in the South American country.

“To do away with the coup d’etat claim is critical for them. It was the first point in the agenda,” the source said.

The five-point pact also would require the opposition to accept the current makeup of the Supreme Justice Tribunal, whose justices — according to government opponents — were appointed illegally and follow Maduro’s orders blindly.

The opposition would also have to live with the current makeup of the National Election Council, an entity that has long been accused of creating an unlevel playing field favoring the government.

In return, the Maduro administration would pledge to give back the National Assembly some of its constitutional functions, including the power to approve the budget, just as long as it approves Maduro’s use of debt to finance spending and does not block a series of deals with foreign oil companies to obtain additional financing.

Even though the proposal may appeal to a small number of opposition leaders, observers said it has a slim chance of being accepted by the opposition mainstream.

For starters, opposition leaders find it extremely difficult to trust Maduro, given that he has a long history of broken promises.

“This regime, which doesn’t really want to hold any election, not even for the queen of Carnival, is now announcing the possibility of regional elections. But what is the intention? They want this regional election to serve as the same type of sedative that last year’s dialogue served,” opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said in a telephone interview, in reference to the Vatican-promoted dialogue that many claim disarmed last year’s round of protests.

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM