Venezuela held an election on Sunday that will be ignored by much of the country, but could set its path for decades to come.
President Nicolas Maduro, fighting to keep control of a restive state, called a vote months earlier than it’s traditionally held. In doing so, he defied the international community and risks further punishment for a nation already ravaged by hyperinflation and hunger. He faces a former governor, Henri Falcon, and a televangelist, Javier Bertucci — but the main opposition coalition told its supporters to stay home.
State television has broadcast images of invited election observers from around the region and from Russia and Europe. Those monitors have no power, though, to control a government accused of employing dirty tricks, from intimidating voters to stuffing ballot boxes.
The United Nations has refused to certify Venezuela’s polling as fair, and the US has said it won’t recognise the winner. US officials have also threatened to choke off the nation’s crucial oil industry, though its creditors may do the job first. “There is no evidence to suggest that Maduro has the intention or the ability to reform,” said Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst at the International Crisis group.
The opposition alliance shunned the elections after the government refused to satisfy its demands, including restaffing a compliant electoral authority and providing additional time for primaries.
While many polls have given a commanding lead to Falcon, a former soldier and governor, he’s struggled to gain widespread support as many Maduro opponents accused him legitimising a sham vote. And Bertucci has further split the diminished opposition bloc.
But even as Maduro, 55, has consolidated political power, reviving Venezuela’s economy has been beyond his grasp. After years of mismanagement and a plunge in oil prices, it’s deteriorated to the point that electricity and running water have become luxuries, and malnutrition is rampant. Maduro’s promise of an “economic revolution” is complicated by the threats from US to punish the nation’s oil industry.