David Smilde on the Potential for Compromise in Venezuela

Video: Venezuelans on the issues that informed their vote on Sunday.

Now that the final results are in and Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has officially won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly for the next five years, this is a moment of cautious optimism. The hope, for many analysts, is that Chavismo’s loss of its congressional majority might lead to a period of greater dialogue with the MUD on the country’s biggest issues, like inflation and scarcity of basic goods.

Yet this is a tall order. For this to happen, representatives of both the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the MUD will have to sit down together, make serious compromises, and put aside the temptation to score political points. There are moderate voices in both the MUD and the PSUV who can make this happen, but it will require a serious commitment to addressing the country’s economic ills.

As WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde remarked to the Washington Post, “If the opposition is just fighting for power and talking about liberty all day long and political prisoners, [Venezuelans] are not going to vote for them again.[…] This is a daily drama for people, and they need solutions.”

Working with the opposition will not come naturally to Chavistas either. For them, dialoguing with the MUD will require the use of a sorely underdeveloped muscle.  As Smilde notes in the Associated Press: “We’re in unchartered territory. Never under Chavismo have we seen a divided government.”

At the same time, however, Chavismo has come out of these elections in a much weaker position, without the same capacity to steamroll the opposition “It’s now clear this is a very unpopular government with limited room for its initiatives,” Smilde told the L.A. Times.

Complicating matters is the fact that President Nicolas has doubled down on polarizing discourse since the election. Even as he recognizes the results, his insistence on the revolution “doesn’t seem like a constructive reading of these results,” as the AFP quotes Smilde.

Ultimately, however, if the two sides do not come together and construct a positive agenda, the real losers will be the Venezuelan people. Continued polarization instead of productive change could have serious consequences. As Smilde remarked to the Wall Street Journal:  “There’s a real risk of crisis of representation with both sides fighting for power and not attending to the needs of the people, who mostly voted on economics.”