The Opposition’s Dilemma in Venezuela – Latin American Elections Series

“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”

Why must the post-Chavismo stop to rule Venezuela?
The post-Chavismo has to stop ruling Venezuela immediately because it became a giant apparatus that cannot (or will not), due to its internal contradictions and power struggles, undertake the urgent reforms required to solve Venezuela’s current emergency situation. Hunger, hyperinflation, severe economic contraction, rampant criminality and corruption and widespread emigration[1]. Post-Chavista mismanagement is responsible for this disaster.

With these conditions in mind, the opposition would certainly have good perspectives on winning any free and fair elections. Only a new government can pursue a change in Venezuela’s dreadful situation.


What should the Venezuelan opposition do about the dilemma of the 2018’s presidential elections?

The opposition’s current options are either competing or boycotting. The MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) decided not to compete, and Mr. Henry Falcón left the MUD coalition to run on his own against Mr. Nicolás Maduro in the upcoming elections that will take place in May 2018.

Falcón will, however, “compete” against a dictatorship, an oil-dictatorship. Mr. Maduro’s regime broke the country’s economy, produced hyperinflation, and faces severe restrictions on accessing international credit because of its illegitimacy. It is clear, however, that the regime will use all resources to maintain itself in power, even if it means resorting to questionable forms of social control, illegal political pressure, and censorship. As an example, Michael Penfold has recently written an article accusing the post-Chavista regime of using a very sophisticated method to win votes on 2017’s regional elections. According to him, they used a national database (Carnet de la Patria) to force people to vote for PSUV (the ruling party) by threatening them of removal from a subsidized food program (CLAP).


How to compete against a dictatorship such as the one in Venezuela?

In such an election that is not free and fair, and that also lacks proper oversight and guarantees, there is only a tiny opportunity window for Falcón to win: 1) a surprise-effect or 2) a significant difference of votes in his favor.

  1. The opposition has succeeded before in 2007’s referendum, 2015’s parliamentary and a few subnational victories in 2017). It also happened before in other countries in a similar situation (1990 in Nicaragua, 1998 in Chile and 1989 in Poland). That is why a surprise factor will not, in my opinion, be left to play any role: the post-Chavismo is already prepared in case of an unfavorable vote count. If they foresee an electoral defeat, the regime will likely respond as undemocratically as usual (such as when Mr. Ledezma won Caracas Mayor elections[2], or when the opposition achieved a majority in the Parliament[3], Chavismo illegally stripped power from both institutions).
  2. Regarding the second opportunity window, there were two cases last year which made evident the post-Chavista regime’s disposition to commit electoral fraud in case of a small vote difference:
    a. The 2017’s National Constitutional Assembly’s election, which was illegally called, was the target of several complaints about its final results and general participation rates[4].b. In 2017 Bolívar’s State elections (Mr. Andrés Velázquez case[5]), the regime tampered with eleven election centers. That caused the change in the final count and gave the victory to the regime’s candidate.
    “The total of votes taken from Andrés Velásquez and added to Noguera reduces the difference to 2,199 votes in favor of MUD’s candidate, which certainly puts into question what the electoral institution claims, that Maduro’s candidate won by 1,471 votes. According to the evidence, the winner is Andrés Velásquez by 728 votes”.

To put it clearly and simple: It is impossible for any opposition candidate to win in Venezuela given the current electoral conditions.

How to unlock the current political situation?

I believe that the easiest answer is “free and fair general elections.” With an opposition’s victory, the country will undertake the long-due economic reforms. But how will the post-Chavismo allow free and fair elections? One possibility is to offer them amnesty in exchange. A negotiation supported and overseen by international parties. Such a deal would give a way-out for post-Chavismo leaders. It is a possible arrangement for a peaceful power transition.

“What!? Wait a moment. Offering amnesty to post-Chavista’s corrupts and criminals is crazy!” No. Think for a moment. Without proper incentives, the post-Chavismo will never leave power (Think in Cuba or North Korea, for instance). For some post-Chavistas, losing power means facing long sentences in jail. Many informants, mostly former Chavistas, have already shared inside-information with foreign governments. Either that or the regime which brought Venezuela to this situation will continue ruling. And their ruling means outwards migration, starvation and death.


Electoral scenarios for the opposition:


Which are the scenarios for the opposition? Opposition Post-chavismo
Opp. Acts separately: some participate, and some abstain. (Current situation) 0 3
Opp. runs in a fair election and wins* 3 0
Opp. runs in a fair election and lose 0 3
Opp. runs in an unfair election and wins* 3 0
Opp. runs in an unfair election and lose 0 2
Opp. abstains 1 2
Opp. runs (symbolic election)* 2 1

Each point represents power, international recognition, and citizens recognition.

Those marked with an asterisk (*) are the best scenarios for the opposition. It seems that the two first scenarios are excluded from each other, but they are not. The opposition, backed by the Lima Group and EU, can negotiate fair elections offering amnesty for the post-Chavismo hierarchy. If fair electoral conditions are not met during the whole electoral process, the opposition gets out from the agreement. This action will condemn the post-Chavistas to a pariah life. Additionally, the opposition must boycott unfair elections with:

1. Total abstention or 2. A symbolic election: either with a symbolic candidate (i.e., persecution victim or a family member of a political prisoner) or a symbolic vote. Additionally, the opposition must call for general strikes and demand for stricter international sanctions against post-Chavismo leading figures. After some time, protests will finally calm down, following the examples of 2014 and 2017, and the Venezuelan conflict will start to circle again.


I believe a negotiation between opposition and post-Chavismo is the only way to solve Venezuela’s crisis: a mediation where the parties agree upon amnesty to achieve free and fair general elections. In the end, every peaceful power transitions need some negotiation agreement. Then, a MUD government will be able to implement the urgent economic reforms that Venezuela needs.

I hope that this path will bring us back to democracy and prosperity.







Follow Rubén I. González Tinoco:

Rubén I. González Tinoco is a Brandt School's MPP graduate in Conflict Studies and Management. He obtained a Law degree (Abogado) from the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, Venezuela, and a Master in ADR and Mediation from the Universidad de León, Spain. He is currently working with migration and professional recognition in Thuringia. His interests are ADR, migration, rule of law and democracy (especially the return of the last two to his homeland).

  1. Iliana Silvy Morin

    Congratulations Ruben on writing in such a difficult subject. It will draw many different opinions. Well done!!!