U.S. officials and Latin American leaders are awaiting Venezuela’s parliamentary elections this weekend with trepidation, worried that instead of defusing the country’s deep tensions, the vote could instead detonate a new crisis. With Venezuela’s petroleum-based economy projected to contract 10 percent this year and citizens suffering chronic shortages of basic goods, the ruling socialist party is expected to lose control of the legislature for the first time since the late Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998. Such a defeat would be an unprecedented blow to the movement known as “Chavismo” that rose to power by electoral means yet views its uninterrupted rule as part of a “revolution” that dismisses, at least rhetorically, democratic norms such as alternating power and divided government. Defiant statements by President Nicolás Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials have offered few assurances to those looking for signs that the government is ready to compromise with the opposition. An opposition candidate in central Venezuela was slain by a gunman Wednesday at a rally, an ominous sign to many of what may be in store on Election Day.
“They are at a dramatic crossroads,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Venezuelan government is quick to label any public criticism by foreigners an act of “meddling.”
Supporters of late Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez take part in a campaign rally Nov. 28, 2015, held by pro-government candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, in Caracas. Venezuela will hold parliamentary elections on Dec. 6. (Reuters)
“Chavismo expected it would be the dominant political force for decades, but it has discovered that in democratic societies, people hold leaders to account,” said the U.S. official. “Ideology and the image of Chávez isn’t enough to maintain a hold on power.”