Venezuelans are voting in snap presidential elections Sunday that many in the international community, including the U.S., are writing off as fraudulent Here’s what you need to know.
▪ Who’s running?
President Nicolás Maduro, 55, who has been in power since 2013, is hoping to win a new six year term. His two main rivals are Henri Falcón, the former governor of Lara state, and Javier Bertucci, an evangelical pastor.
▪ Who’s expected to win?
Polls are divided about who might win the race. But the main opposition parties are calling for a boycott, and many analysts think that will give Maduro the edge. For his part, Maduro desperately needs a solid turnout to convince the international community that the elections are competitive.
▪ What if there’s an opposition upset?
If Falcón, for example, were to win, he wouldn’t take power until January 2019, under the current rules. And some analysts fear that the National Constituent Assembly — a Maduro-controlled super-body that can overrule all other branches of government — might strip the executive office of power, as it did with the opposition-controlled congress.
▪ How bad are things in Venezuela?
Venezuela is in the grips of a recession, hyper-inflation and food and medicine shortages. It’s also seen a general collapse in its infrastructure, with many regions hammered by power and water outages that last for days. The medical system has also collapsed in many areas, and crime is rampant.
▪ If things are so bad how can Maduro win?
Despite having low approval ratings, the Maduro administration still has a small but loyal following. His coalition also has a formidable get-out-the-vote machine. In addition, the opposition boycott boosts his chances. Many believe the elections are blatantly unfair and they don’t believe that Falcón, a one-time ruling-party member, truly represents their interests. They point out that “true” and competitive opposition candidates, like Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles have been jailed and sidelined.
▪ What does the international community think?
The United States, the European Union, Canada and several countries in South America have said they will not recognize the results of the election. The fundamental flaw with the process, critics claim, is that they weren’t convened by the National Assembly, as required by the constitution. Instead, the elections were called, months ahead of schedule, by the National Constituent Assembly, which the opposition says was formed illegally, and is packed with government supporters. They also say the administration has used the courts and the National Electoral Council to bar competitors and skew the playing field.
▪ Why does it matter?
For decades, Venezuela was one of the standard-bearers of democracy (albeit complicated and flawed) in the region. And it was also among the most prosperous nations in the hemisphere due to its immense oil wealth. Nineteen years of single-party rule, first under the late Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) and now under Maduro, have left the nation in shambles.
Human rights groups say the unchecked power of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has allowed corruption and cronyism to blossom. And hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail without trial — including Josh Holt, a former Mormon missionary from Utah. Freedom of speech has also been dramatically curtailed. Amid the economic collapse, more than a million people have fled the country in recent years, in what many fear will turn into a broader humanitarian crisis in the region.
▪ What can be done about it?
Washington has taken the lead on slapping Venezuelan officials with sanctions and turning the screws on the country’s financial sector. And other nations have suggested they will take a harder line on Caracas after Sunday’s vote. The big question is if the Trump administration is prepared to block oil exports from Venezuela — a key lifeline to the country. But past experiences with sanctions (such as in Cuba, Iran and North Korea) suggest their impact might be limited. Venezuela's growing diaspora is also increasing pressure from abroad. On Sunday, there will be anti-Maduro protests in more than 100 cities worldwide, including South Florida.
▪ What’s next?
Maduro has said that, if he wins reelection, he will call for a national economic dialogue to try to solve the country's pressing issues. He’s also suggested he might be open to some sort of power-sharing agreement under a “unity” government. But the opposition, which has been burned by such offers in the past, say those initiatives are unlikely to bring the stability that Maduro is looking for.