In Venezuela’s latest parliamentary elections, the opposition coalition (Mud) saw the election of 112 Deputies, against the government party’s (Psuv) 55. Surpassing every optimistic prediction, Mud managed to prevail even in those poorest neighbourhoods that had been Chavez’s traditional bulwark.
The victory, uniform in nearly every electoral district, can be attributed to the deep dissatisfaction of the local population, who used their vote to punish the government’s incapacity to resolve the problems of food scarcity, rising prices and organised crime.
President Maduro promptly and publicly conceded defeat, as the eyes of the world were upon these elections, and their peaceful conduction was a major factor. Nevertheless, the government’s position in the two days that followed became gradually more rigid.
It is highly probable that there will soon be a reshuffling of the government so as to shift the influence of the various factions of the government party. This could serve to create a place for those high profile members that were not re-elected or to eliminate eventual internal dissidents. There are disturbing rumours of a possible attempt to create a (unconstitutional) “communal assembly”, the eventual components of which are stilll unclear, that would flank the parliament – rumours that certainly arise from the hawkish Chavez circles.
The opposition is also being forced to reflect now. Mud is aware that many of the votes it received were anti-Maduro rather than votes in favour of them, and that any initiative they take will require the unified efforts of the 18 opposition parties. Mud is not homogeneously galvanised around a well-defined programme that is not that of removing the president before the natural end of his term in 2018.
With a majority of two-thirds of the parliament, the opposition will be able to take a series of initiatives that could impact on others of Psuv powers: revoking members of the government, appointing judges to the supreme court, naming the members of the electoral commission and convening the constituent assembly or a referendum on revoking the Presidency. According to the government, on the other hand, the new parliament does not have the power to unseat State appointees or ministers. It is therefore to be expected that, come 5 January, tensions and violence will spark again.
The risk is that life in Venezuela will continue to be dangerous, teetering on the edge of destabilisation with frequent social protests, trapped in a web of crossed vetoes and postponements of State responsibilities. A stand-off in which it is hard to discern a winner, and whose effects on the population and the economy would be devastating.
Venezuela needs its political parties to engage in a real dialogue in order to confront the enormous economic and social challenges ahead. The economic situation is so complex that neither the government nor the opposition are capable of resolving it in the absence of wider consensus. No one today has a monopoly on the future, and it would be illusory to imagine that either side could succeed in excluding its political adversary.
Some Chavists believe that dialogue between government and opposition is only possible on the premise that the present government is confirmed for its full term, while the central issue for the opposition is the question of political prisoners.
As it did during the 2014 demonstrations, Italy will continue to monitor the current phase, lending an attentive ear to the information coming from the large Italo-Venezuelan community.