With Venezuela’s elections rescheduled to May 20, President Nicolás Maduro has a long road ahead of him in gaining the support of his citizens. Elections were originally intended to be held April 22, but the National Election Council (CNE) made a last minute decision to push the election date back by one month. The call for a snap election still has some suspecting it was to ensure Maduro’s victory while his opponents largely have no stable footing to run on or are banned from running. A key indicator of Maduro’s future success can be found in the municipal elections, which were held on December 10, 2017. Maduro’s socialist party won 300 of the 355 seats in the overwhelming majority of the municipalities.
Meanwhile, the United States and Colombia have stated that they will not recognize the elections in Venezuela, as these elections are likely to worsen the crisis already at hand, due to accusations that the elections are a farce and will be neither fair nor free. Maduro, who is a member of the United Socialist Party (PSUV), is running for his second six-year term. He first took office in April 2013 following the death of Hugo Chavez, and served as the vice president under Chavez from October 2012 to March 2013.
Maduro is running at a time of high political dissatisfaction while the country faces medicine, food, and home goods shortages. All of this makes Maduro’s re-election an uphill battle, as he only has one out of five citizens’ support with a little more than one month until polling day. He has recently been criticized for handing control of the gold capital, El Callo, to the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) who use violent tactics to fight gangs, crime, and illegal mining in the area – certainly in a move to consolidate power. The United States has condemned the GNB for its human rights violations. Most recently, a February 10 attack in the state of Bolivar left 18 civilians dead. Some of the dead had permits to work in the gold mine at El Callo.
Maduro is also transitioning more aspects of the state-run economy to the military in order to strengthen it as members are starting to lose loyalty, often seeking asylum in neighboring countries. Soldiers are being charged with treason in Venezuela, and others are attempting to defect, causing Maduro to contemplate taking their passports. The United States, Canada, and European countries already imposed sanctions on the military, froze the assets and bank accounts of key officials as well as restricted their travel. The international community has also started charging some military officers with human rights abuses.
With each passing day, Venezuela plunges deeper into a humanitarian crisis. Venezuelans are facing severely limited access to necessities like medicine and food. In 2017, the health minister of Venezuela issued a report stating that their maternal mortality rate increased by 65 percent, the minister was subsequently fired. Severe malnutrition in children is also rapidly increasing along with infant mortality and cases of malaria.
Critics of Maduro state that he has a heavy hand in destroying the once-thriving economy and has authoritarian tendencies in rigging elections to maintain power. Supporters argue that he is “fighting a U.S.-led right-wing conspiracy,” especially under President Trump, and that the United States is attempting to ruin Latin America and the Bolivarian project. Maduro is likely to run largely uncontested, although Henri Falcon has decided to enter the race. Falcon is a former member of the PSUV party but left in 2010, he is now running under the opposition party Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). The most prominent opposition leaders are either jailed or unable to run due to exile or being banned from the political sphere.
With only 29 percent of the population stating they would vote and 85 percent feeling as though the country is in extreme crisis, Venezuelans are feeling despondent about the upcoming election. While Maduro is polling around 30 percent in some reports, he could easily win due to the rushed nature of the election. Polls also indicate low confidence in the National Electoral Council, whose job duties entail determining who may and may not run. While the outcome of the election might be unclear, one thing is certain: the world will be watching.
Alexandra Snodgrass is a candidate for a Master in Global Affairs from Rice University. She holds a B.S. in Economics from University of Nebraska-Lincoln.