And it wasn’t even close. The government of Hugo Chavez’ successor Nicolas Maduro suffered a humiliating defeat in parliamentary elections yesterday, losing control to a coalition opposed to the Chavistas and their disastrous reign of Cuban-style socialism. They may end up with barely a quarter of the seats in their National Assembly, a powerful rebuke:
The Venezuelan government lost control of its National Assembly early Monday, a major electoral defeat that revealed the deep discontent with President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration and the country’s unraveling economy.
The victory by an opposition coalition set the stage for further confrontation and could energize a movement aiming to drive Maduro from power before the end of his term in 2019. The result also marked a turning point for the “revolution” launched 16 years ago by the late Hugo Chávez.
About a half hour after midnight, the head of the country’s electoral body announced that the opposition coalition had won at least 99 of the 167 legislative seats. Cheers went up at the opposition’s campaign headquarters in a Caracas hotel. Another 22 seats had yet to be called, giving the opposition a possibility of winning an even larger majority.
Maduro accepted the result as graciously as one might imagine:
During his speech, Maduro said the results emerged from a conservative “counterrevolution” that aimed to destabilize his administration. He criticized what he described as a years-long campaign by opposition leaders and other influential political figures—backed by interests in the U.S.—to manipulate the Venezuelan economy to stir discontent among voters. That included a triple-digit inflation rate and consumer goods shortages, along with an escalating crime wave.
“A counterrevolution has triumphed, which has imposed its own way, its war,” Maduro said. “I can say today that economic war has triumphed.”
The inflation and shortages are entirely a creation of the Cuban-style socialism and confiscatory policies of Chavez and Maduro. The West didn’t have to lift a finger to have socialism in Venezuela do what it always does … run out of other people’s money, as Margaret Thatcher once famously put it. They nationalized the oil industry and ran out of capital and expertise to make it produce revenue as it should. They confiscated businesses and production facilities in Venezuela for their view of social justice, and then wondered why production dropped drastically. A once-wealthy nation has been reduced to using Soviet-style lines for even the basic staples of life for all but the elites, mainly because Chavez and Maduro adopted Soviet-style economic policies.
They didn’t adopt Soviet-style voting policies, however, which Maduro will shortly learn was the only reason the Soviets and the Castros remained in power for as long as they did and have, respectively. That’s the reason why this result is a shock — no one expected Maduro to conduct a fair election, and to be clear it’s not certain that they did. The turnout may have made it a moot point, says Fausta Wertz, who predicted a far different outcome:
With 75% total turnout, the opposition majority was overwhelming enough that no amount of fraud, mismanagement, and intimidation could overcome it. That said, I’m absolutely thrilled that my forecast was wrong.
It’s surprising, though, that the Maduro government would acknowledge a loss of this scope, especially since it means handing the opposition a significant amount of power – at least on paper:
With a simple majority of more than 50 percent of the National Assembly (84 members), the opposition can:
- Issue a vote of no confidence in the Vice President and cabinet Ministers
- Investigate and question public officials
- Have a deciding role in the national budget and debt debates
- Approve an amnesty law
- Select the members of the Supreme Court of Justice
- Approve laws on health, justice and basic goods
- Name ambassadors
- Convene national referendums on matters of special importance and amendments to the Constitution (with National Assembly approval)
- Attribute to states or municipalities certain issues that currently fall under national competence
- Authorize the President to leave the country (for 5 days)
- Elect the President of the National Assembly, and its two Vice Presidents
- Indict congressmen
With a qualified majority of 3/5 of the National Assembly (101 members), the opposition can:
- Decide that a vote of no confidence in the Vice President or cabinet Ministers should lead to their dismissal, and subsequently dismiss them
- Authorize presidential decrees allowing expanded executive authority (so-called “enabling laws” or “leyes habilitantes”
- Appoint members of the National Electoral Council (CNE)
- Remove members of the CNE, provided it is backed by a ruling by the Supreme Court
With an absolute majority of 2/3 the National Assembly (112 members), the opposition can:
- Remove Supreme Court justices in cases of gross misconduct
- Subject any bills under discussion in the National Assembly to approval by referendum
- Convene a National Constituent Assembly, as well as a recall referendum for President Maduro
- Submit international treaties, conventions or agreements to referendums
- Pass and modify any draft organic law (laws which determine the fundamental political principles of a government)
To get to 112 members, the opposition would have to win 13 of the 22 outstanding seats left to be decided. That would allow the opposition to force a recall election of Maduro, and based on yesterday’s result, Maduro’s prospects and those of the Chavistas would look bleak indeed.
Don’t start looking for a counter-revolution through the National Assembly just yet, though. One has to wonder whether Maduro will let these results stand, or whether he’ll declare an emergency and suspend the National Assembly to protect the regime. This story is far from over.