Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has presided over one of the most disastrous economic collapses in Latin America in recent memory. And due to a largely rigged election, he just got reelected in a landslide victory.
Despite a dysfunctional economy, widespread food and medicine shortages, and skyrocketing inflation on track to hit 13,000 percent this year, Maduro managed to secure close to 68 percent of the vote on Sunday.
He did it in part by banning two of the most popular opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, from running in the election — and by sort of implying that any Venezuelans who didn’t vote for him might lose their government food subsidies.
“Everyone who has this card must vote,” Maduro said at campaign rallies, referring to the IDs Venezuelans use to receive their subsidies. “I give and you give.”
Venezuelans were told to show those IDs at polling stations run by Maduro’s party, according to the New York Times. That’s a big deal because a majority of Venezuelans rely on government subsidies to buy basic groceries. Without those subsidies, many would go hungry.
A deeply fractured opposition also contributed to Maduro’s big win. Opposition parties were split between those who wanted to boycott what they saw as an illegitimate election and those who thought it was worth trying to rally behind a plausible challenger to Maduro at the polls.
Between the opposition boycotts and widespread disillusionment with the voting system as a whole, there was strikingly low turnout. Venezuela’s election board said turnout on Sunday was 46.1 percent, down from 80 percent in 2013. That’s the lowest turnout the country has seen in decades.
Ultimately, Maduro received 5.8 million votes, while the most prominent opposition candidate who was able to run, Henri Falcón, garnered 1.8 million.
Which means that the man who helped take Venezuela from a wealthy nation to a country on the brink of total economic collapse will be in charge for another six years.
That’s bad news for Venezuelans who have watched Maduro refuse for years to enact reforms to the country’s suffocating currency exchange policy, diversify the economy away from oil dependence, and reboot the national oil company, whose production has been plummeting in recent months.
Maduro on Sunday deemed his victory “historic” and called the electoral system “impeccable,” but many in the international community refused to recognize the results of Sunday’s election as legitimate.
The Lima Group, a bloc of 14 mainly Latin American countries concerned with restoring democracy in Venezuela, issued a statement refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s reelection. And the US condemned the election as a “sham” and imposed new sanctions on Maduro’s administration on Monday that ban US purchases of Venezuelan debt as Caracas looks to sell it off to raise badly needed cash.
At times of crisis, it’s common for voters in democratic countries to elect reformers who promise to take a new approach to solving the nation’s problems. But for now it looks like Venezuela’s window to do that has closed.
Venezuela is sliding further and further away from democracy
Maduro has a track record of interfering with the political process to maintain his grip on power.
During elections for state governors back in October, the National Electoral Council, which is dominated by openly pro-Maduro sympathizers, moved the location of hundreds of heavily pro-opposition polling stations just hours before the vote.
The council said that voters could check to see if their polling station had been moved by texting a government number. According to the Washington Post, when people did that, the government would provide the address of the new location — but it also came with a message “reminding” them who was the Maduro-backed candidate running in that district.
In July, Maduro held an election to create a new and massively powerful political body known as a “constituent assembly” that was given carte blanche to rewrite the country’s constitution and supplant the opposition-controlled parliament. The opposition boycotted the election, slamming the special election process designed for the parliament as rigged in Maduro’s favor, and allies of Maduro’s Socialist Party won all 545 seats.
Maduro also declined to hold a referendum on whether such a constituent assembly was even desired in Venezuela — something that was a break from recent precedent.
The judiciary branch has also become more and more an arm of the ruling party. Back in March 2017, the supreme court — which is pro-Maduro — pulled off a radical move. It made a ruling that effectively dissolved the opposition-controlled legislative branch and absorbed all its power. The decision sparked mass protests and caused chaos on the streets.
Just days later it reversed its decision, but the damage to trust in Venezuela’s government and the resilience of the constitution was done. As Pedro Rosas noted at Vox in May, “Opposition leaders accused Maduro of trying to turn Venezuela into a dictatorship and said the court — nominally committed to enforcing the country’s constitution — had instead shredded the document by carrying out what amounted to a judicial coup.”
With Maduro’s reelection on Sunday, the hope that Venezuela might be able to turn around not just its declining economy but also its weakening democracy faded even further. Maduro’s authoritarian tendencies appear to be growing, and there are fewer and fewer institutional checks on his power. Without pressure to reform, Maduro is likely to lead the country even closer toward full economic and social collapse.