I participated in a Q&A on Venezuela’s regional elections in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor, along with Michael Shifter, Vanessa Newmann and Julia Buxton. The question and my response are below. The entire exchange in PDF can be read here.
Q. Venezuela’s ruling party claimed sweeping victories in the country’s Nov. 21 local elections, in which voters cast ballots for candidates in 3,000 local offices, including mayors, municipal councils and 23 state governors. What were the most important developments from the election, and how significant was the participation of the main opposition parties—their first since 2018—in the race? What do the results mean for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, as well as for the opposition, and which faction has emerged stronger from the vote? How free and fair did the election appear to be, and what role did European Union observers, who were in Venezuela for the first time in 15 years, play?
A. David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America and professor of sociology at Tulane University: “Despite efforts to discourage the vote by hardliners on both sides, 42 percent of eligible Venezuelans turned out to vote in the regional elections—the figure is closer to 50 percent if you take into account the four million or more registered voters who are abroad but unable to vote. The results reveal Venezuela’s crisis of democratic representation. Despite its controlling every branch of the government, harassment of opposition politicians, domination of media and instrumentalization of food and other basic necessities, the Socialist Party received the lowest vote total in its history. Most electors voted for gubernatorial candidates opposing the Maduro government, yet opposition forces only came away with three of 23 governorships because they divided their vote. If they had unified candidacies, they could have won the majority of gubernatorial contests—between 12 and 15. Until the Venezuelan opposition develops mechanisms to aggregate preferences and resolve conflict, this sad scene will be repeated indefinitely. The opposition needs to develop institutions that can draw in their own fringes on the left and right and unify candidacies, giving preference to candidates who actually have some organic link to the populations they want to elect them, preferably through primaries. This seems like a tall order, but they have done it before, for example in the 2015 legislative elections. The opposition’s current chaos is exacerbated by an interim government out of sync with the larger opposition and which prioritizes its own self-preservation over unification of the movement.”