Venezuela’s presidential elections, now set for May 20, are designed to help President Nicolás Maduro tighten his grip on power. Originally scheduled for late 2018, the administration brought forward the date of the election in a clear effort to capitalize on disharmony within the opposition. After getting trounced in October in provincial elections that were widely seen as fraudulent, most members of the opposition MUD coalition have decided not to participate in the coming contest. The government’s willingness to stuff ballots, break electoral rules and limit opposition voters from reaching the polls means there is almost no risk of Maduro losing. But four opposition candidates, three from small parties and one independent, have nonetheless thrown their hats into the ring. Most prominent among them is Henri Falcón, a retired military officer and former Chavista politician who broke with the government and joined the opposition in 2010.
Falcón has chosen to run despite the fact that Maduro will do anything to keep power and that the MUD is putting its weight behind a strategy that will discourage opposition supporters from voting. The deck is stacked against him, so what could Falcón possibly hope to gain by running? Here are two hypotheses, both of which point to the lingering uncertainty over who will be able to pull the opposition out of its current morass.
The first is that Falcón actually thinks he can win. The thought seems laughable, for several reasons.