The End of Chavismo? Why Venezuela’s Ruling Party Lost Big, and What Comes Next

Source: The Nation

Even Chavistas are fed up with the economic crisis and want change. But unlike the right, grassroots leaders are calling for more popular control and collective decision-making.

Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) suffered a devastating loss in Sunday’s parliamentary election. The opposition Democratic Unity Front (MUD) received 56 percent of the popular vote to the PSUV’s 41 percent. Due to a majoritarian electoral system, the MUD won 112 seats (67 percent), with the PSUV taking 55 (33 percent). The opposition will control the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years. With a super-majority of two-thirds, the opposition will have significant powers, including the ability to block government spending and ministerial appointments, unseat sitting Supreme Court justices, remove the vice president, call for a constitutional assembly and initiate a recall referendum against the president. (It is unclear if the National Assembly can call a recall referendum on its own or only after gathering signatures from 20 percent of the electorate.)

President Nicolás Maduro immediately accepted the defeat, demonstrating that widespread fears voiced by the opposition, international media, and the US and other foreign governments that the government would not accept a loss were unfounded. It is worth noting that the government’s recognition of the MUD victory stands in marked contrast to the opposition’s repeated refusals to accept electoral losses in the past (including 2004, 2006, 2013), despite the fact that numerous observers, including Jimmy Carter, have praised Venezuela’s electoral system as technically sound and “the best in the world.”

Why the Government Lost

“Things are worse now than they were during the Caracazo,” said Omar Machado, referring to the 1989 popular uprising in Caracas that was sparked by the sudden imposition of neoliberal austerity and left hundreds (according to some estimates thousands) dead at the hands of state security forces. Machado, a community organizer from the Caracas barrio of 23 de Enero, then rattled off a list of everyday products—shampoo, soap, deodorant, tampons, and birth-control pills—that he and his family have been unable to obtain for months. If Machado wants to buy basic food items, such as chicken, corn flour, and black beans, at regulated prices, he must face the long lines found throughout Venezuela. The lines exist “because of the bachaqueros who buy some product for 19 bolivares and then sell it for 200 or 300.” (A bachaquero is someone who buys price-regulated products and resells them on the black market at much higher rates.)

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