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Venezuela Politics December 2020

Venezuela: Parliamentary elections set for 6 December amid fractured economic and political environment

On 6 December, Venezuela goes to the polls in a hotly contested parliamentary election that will decide the makeup of the National Assembly, currently the only government branch not in the hands of President Nicolás Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela). The elections come against the background of crippling economic degradation: The country is mired in a deep and prolonged recession, characterized by plunging oil output amid international sanctions, sky-high inflation, rampant depreciation of the currency and crippling shortages of key consumer goods. The economic and political turmoil looks set to persist, with a Maduro-supporting majority the most likely outcome of the vote.

A coalition of opposition parties, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática), presently holds a parliamentary majority, but disagreements between individual parties over how best to approach the impending elections have resulted in a fractured front. While certain key figures, such as Juan Guaidó—incumbent president of the National Assembly and self-declared interim president of Venezuela—have backed a boycott of the vote, others, such as Henrique Capriles—the opposition candidate in both the 2012 and 2013 presidential elections—have registered candidates to take part in a continued effort to improve electoral conditions, although their participation is far from certain. Nevertheless, 107 political parties are fielding candidates, the majority of whom are non-government-supporting.

However, the disarray leaves the PSUV and other government-supporting parties in pole position to sweep to victory, in the process stripping opposition parties and leaders of the formal legitimacy they currently hold. As such, a perpetuation of the economic distress appears highly likely, with U.S. sanctions remaining in place and the international isolation of the Maduro government set to continue.

This outcome is viewed by Alberto J. Rojas, economist at Credit Suisse, as being most probable:

“Our central scenario is that Chavismo is unlikely to provide enough concessions so that the opposition becomes actually enticed to partake in the elections. In such case, we think that Venezuela will end up next year with a Chavista-controlled National Assembly, which will not be recognized by most of the international community.”

This viewpoint is shared by Carlos de Sousa, lead economist at Oxford Economics, who commented:

“The opposition is likely to lose its majority in the National Assembly and they’re considering different strategies, including a referendum, to maintain the international recognition of the interim government beyond January 5 next year, when the term of the current National Assembly expires. In the short term, we don’t expect any material change in the ongoing political deadlock.”

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