Venezuela revolution has lost its mojo

Opposition congresswoman Marialbert Barrios holds up her credentials after receiving them from the Electoral Council.
Opposition congresswoman Marialbert Barrios holds up her credentials after receiving them from the Electoral Council. AP

For Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the ultimate humiliation of Sunday’s election was losing support in neighborhoods like 23 de Enero and Catia, onetime government strongholds in Caracas that voted overwhelmingly against his incompetent regime.

The “Bolivarian Revolution” has lost its mojo. Rarely have ordinary citizens so resoundingly rejected a self-described “popular” democracy that professed to rule in their name. But then, rarely has anyone matched the ineptitude of the current bunch at Miraflores Palace.

Venezuela sits atop the largest proven reserves of crude oil on the planet. It should be rich. Yet its economy today is on life support. The treasury has little money (financial reserves are under $15 billion, the lowest in more than a decade), oil prices are in a huge slump and the private sector is moribund, thanks to punitive government regulations.

Meanwhile, the crime rate has made Venezuela one of the most unsafe countries in the world, and economic stagnation has led to empty store shelves. Daily consumer necessities, everything from diapers to basic food items, are hard to find, if at all.

The opposition movement that captured 112 seats in the unicameral parliament needs to keep all this in mind as it sets about putting things right. Voters rejected the economic disarray, the rampant crime and the incompetence of the Maduro regime. This was not so much a popular embrace of the opposition as a rejection of Mr. Maduro’s failures.

Getting the economy right must be Priority No. 1. Opposition lawmakers should focus on getting rid of the price controls that have made it impossible for honest businesses to earn a profit, and eliminate the bewildering foreign-exchange system that facilitates illicit profits by government cronies manipulating the black market in dollars.

Mr. Maduro has grudgingly accepted the outcome (thanks, many say, to the military’s unwillingness to tolerate electoral fraud), but he can be counted on to make trouble. He can’t make any headway, however, unless he works with the opposition to come up with a practical economic program that offers relief to beleaguered Venezuelans.

On the political front, the opposition is right to demand the release of political prisoners, plus allowing the return, without reprisals, of Venezuelans who sought self-imposed exile for fear of being thrown in jail for their political views. That is especially important for some families in Miami, home to Venezuela’s politically induced diaspora.

Venezuelans must be patient. The opposition can’t work miracles, but it can make a start if it finds a way to work with Mr. Maduro to improve the economy. That will be difficult, even unlikely, given his anti-democratic temperament, but he will bear the blame for failure.

The opposition itself must also be patient, putting economic objectives ahead of political projects like corruption investigations and reforming the judiciary. That can wait. The 112-seat bloc represents a two-thirds majority that gives it the power to make life miserable for Mr. Maduro, but that should not come at the expense of fixing the economy.

The democratic coalition must overcome a history of rivalry and division to remain united because Mr. Maduro is not a good loser. He’ll do everything he can to retain power, including bribery of willing opposition figures. Venezuela’s democrats deserve kudos for a landslide victory, but the fight to restore the nation’s democracy has just begun.