Venezuela’s gubernational elections have brought the country’s notorious level of corruption to new heights. In the election of the governors for 23 of Venezuela’s states, 18 of the candidates elected were members of President Maduro’s pro-government socialist party. Surprised? Since he was elected as president in 2015, Maduro has routinely delayed elections for governor races by nearly 10 months and even removed a recall referendum that could expel him from his office.
The race for governor has arrived after the country’s National Assembly, which was controlled by the opposition party, was dismantled by Maduro in March. In the months prior to the election, the protests of National Assembly reorganization led to 125 deaths and Maduro announced a new election of a constituent party that could inflict more control. Venezuela has been scrutinized with having one of the most corrupt governments in the world. According to Transparency International, Venezuela’s government ranked the 10th most corrupt in 2016—above Iraq, Congo, and Russia—and their rank is expected to climb further. As the adaptations in the government and new body of governors allow Maduro to exercise more power, Venezuela future remains under question.
The addition to a system of governors came after the opposition party won the majority of the votes in the National Assembly parliamentary elections in 2015. In July, Maduro launched the election of a constituent assembly, which has the authority to dismiss members of office and draft a new constitution. The results of the election were highly contested by not only members of international organizations and government but also the technology company that created the voting machines. After the election, the company that made the voting software, Smartmatic released a statement that affirmed that the National Electoral Council tampered with the results. In yet another power grab, the race for governors for the newly established “National Communal Parliament” has resembled another way in which the Socialist party and Maduro can remain in office. Despite opposition from parliament members who believe the Socialist Party used the governor elections to grapple more control; the governor elections still resulted in a Socialist party majority.
Although Maduro has affirmed that the election was fair, evidence for voter fraud has accumulated in the weeks following the election. In the days prior to the election, the location of 203 polling stations were changed and members of the opposition party claimed they were harassed by the Socialist party. The governmental bodies that administered the vote were also none other than the National Electoral Council, which have been accused of election fraud in the past.
The elections in Venezuela have been criticized by the opposition party and the international community at large. In the July election of the constituent party, the EU and the US rejected the results and the US imposed severe sanctions on Venezuelan politicians. The US announced that the Socialist members’ assets in the US would be frozen and travel to and from the US would be banned. In addition, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said that “Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail,” in a tweet in July.
The opposition party has spoken against the governor results as well. Opposition party campaign head Gerardo Blyde rejected the results and stated “We do not recognize any of the results at this time. We are facing a very serious moment for the country.”
Maduro reacted to accusations of election tampering by stating that the government was going to conduct a full review of the vote to prove that it was not fraudulent. Maduro also said that the opposing power routinely claims fraud when they lose. The president said “When they lose, they cry fraud. When they win, they shout ‘Down with Maduro,’ Chavismo is alive, in the streets and triumphant.”
Despite Maduro’s repudiation of predecessor Hugo Chavez’s Chavismo governing style, he has mirrored the former leader in his recent actions. During his reign, Chavez also used the constituent assembly to garner more support, attempted to restructure the constitution, and avoided recall elections.
In the coming months, Maduro is expected to throw out of power the five candidates from the opposition party that have won seats. At the inauguration of an opposition candidate in Venezuela’s Lara state, Maduro said: “Anyone who wants to be governor will have to recognize the Constituent National Assembly; otherwise elections will be repeated in states where the Assembly is not recognized.” Because the Constituent National Assembly remains under Maduro’s control, if the opposing governors face the assembly, they will most likely be expelled from office.
The grip of Venezuela’s government by Maduro and the socialist party have caused the nation to fall into an economic and humanitarian crisis. The Council on Foreign Relations reported that Venezuela’s economy has shrunk by 30% in the past four years due to the country’s rampant black market and loss of millions of dollars by public officials. According to a 2017 report from the Human Rights Watch, food shortages and lack of medicine have also crippled the nation, with 87% of people reporting difficulties finding food and 76% of hospitals reporting severe medicine shortages. As Maduro accumulates more control over the country, Venezuelan citizens continue to suffer.