Venezuela’s opposition coalition has won a landmark victory in the country’s parliamentary election, achieving a majority in the National Assembly. The result could signify the beginning of the end for socialist rule in Venezuela, where the ruling party has failed to deal effectively with the country’s economic problems.
While president Nicolás Maduro’s position will not be contested until 2018, the National Assembly is now in the hands of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a catch-all coalition led by Jesús Torrealba. With 112 out of 167 seats, the MUD are now able to set about reversing some aspects of the Bolivarian Revolution – the socialist movement previously led by late president Hugo Chávez. They may even be able to try to have President Maduro removed from office- a move that is to be countered with the packing of the Venezuelan supreme court with justices sympathetic to the Socialists.
Maduro has been president since the Chávez’s death in 2013. Chávez was known for his populism, as well as a series of extensive welfare programs that sought to tackle poverty across the country. Maduro’s presidency was expected to be a continuation Chávez’s politics, despite claims that he lacked the charisma and style of his predecessor. However, questions have been asked about the legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency, as his position at the time of Chávez’s death was that of vice-president – the Venezuelan constitution states that the president of the National Assembly should succeed a president who dies in office.
Since Maduro became president in 2013, Venezuela has been plagued by serious economic problems. The rate of inflation has skyrocketed, now standing at 162.5% according to the IMF. Basic goods are becoming increasingly scarce, and queues at the shops are becoming all too common. The country is heavily dependent on exporting oil and so a fall in the price of oil has only contributed the sluggish state of the economy.
In addition to these economic woes, Maduro’s style of governing has become increasingly authoritarian. In October, opposition politician Leopoldo López was sentenced to nearly fourteen years in prison on a series of trumped-up charges relating to his role in a street protest last year. Earlier this year the mayor of the capital city Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested following a raid by Venezuela’s secret police, on suspicion of planning a coup against Maduro. Amnesty International reports that excessive force has been used to disperse demonstrators, with cases of protestors dying from being shot with rubber bullets at close range.
There is little doubt that the government’s economic incompetency and authoritarian rule contributed to the opposition’s success in this election. Whether the opposition can keep the momentum going until the presidential election of 2018 remains to be seen – the MUD is known for infighting, and the real test of their unity has only just begun. Nevertheless, a victory for an opposition candidate in the 2018 presidential election would almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin for the Bolivarian Revolution.