Venezuela’s opposition should seek popular support at home, not help from abroad
The sweeping victory Nicolás Maduro and his allies secured in Sunday’s legislative elections in Venezuela has allowed the oil-rich country’s President to tighten his grip on power. The outgoing National Assembly, in which the opposition has a majority, has remained outside his influence. Last year, the Assembly Speaker, Juan Guaidó, declared himself acting President after the opposition refused to recognise Mr. Maduro’s 2018 re-election. But despite Mr. Guaidó’s call for revolt and the support he got internationally, including from the U.S., all other major institutions, including the judiciary and the military, remained loyal to Mr. Maduro — he has emerged stronger with his United Socialist Party and allies winning 67% of the vote. But the results are unlikely to resolve the political crisis. The Guaidó-led main right-wing opposition bloc had boycotted the election. It claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to appoint a new election commission without participation from the National Assembly was illegal. The opposition has also rejected the results. It points out that only 31% of registered voters cast their ballots — less than half of the turnout in the 2015 legislative election which the opposition won — questioning the legitimacy of the whole process. The U.S. and several EU countries too have refused to recognise the vote.
Venezuela has for long been embroiled in crises. When oil prices fell, its ambitious Bolivarian welfare schemes, launched by Mr. Maduro’s charismatic predecessor, Hugo Chávez, began showing cracks. Coupled with American sanctions, the economic crisis led to food, fuel and medicine shortages, triggering protests and forcing at least 4.5 million to flee. The 2015 legislative election was an early warning to the ruling socialists. But they failed to fix the economy. To override the opposition from the Assembly, Mr. Maduro convened a Constituent Assembly, which even passed laws. The opposition, on the other side, could have used its mandate to mobilise the people and build a bigger movement. But it chose the easier path: Mr. Guaidó declared himself the President without even a semblance of legitimacy, and joined hands with foreign powers, including Colombia and the U.S., whose antipathy towards the socialists in Caracas is hardly a secret. In effect, the Venezuelan right-wing opposition abandoned its political fight and, by taking American help to unseat President Maduro, strengthened the regime’s narrative that the opposition leaders are being used by “Yankee imperialists”. By boycotting the election, the opposition has, in practice, made it easier for Mr. Maduro to win it. If the opposition wants to challenge the government effectively, it should build a political movement at home, tapping the grievances of the public, not on the support that may or may not come from abroad.