Maduro might implode; chavismo you'll have to bargain with

6D won't set off regime collapse, like in Romania in 1989. It'll set the stage for a delicate, high stakes negotiation, like in Mexico in 1988.

On Wednesday, Quico set out a dramatic vision for post-6D regime collapse. Bureaucrats bury their red shirts. The TSJ declares a new allegiance. A seven-star flag suddenly flies above Fuerte Tiuna. The opposition steps on to the hulking supertanker that is the Venezuelan ship of state and finds it deserted. Henry and Julio peek into the cockpit, and—Lo! The keys are dangling in the ignition.

This strikes me as unlikely. Yes, Maduro is unpopular. Very unpopular. But Chavismo is not. In a recent Datanálisis poll, 57% of Venezuelans expressed favorable views of Chávez. With time, when Chavistas are no longer reminded daily that the comandante left them with Maduro, that figure could rise further.

Unlike the political movements of the former dictators Quico cites, Chavismo remains a valuable political asset in Venezuela.

Diosdado understands this. Diosdado understands that there is a future for Chavismo, and he understands that there’s a way to fight for it. (Normally I say the same of Maduro, but, given his stubbornly self-defeating economic policy choices over the past year, I’m not sure what to expect.) If there’s any semblance of coordination among Chavista factions, they’ll have a lot to bargain with. And a lot to bargain for.

What comes after 6D, then, is precisely the difficult negotiation that Quico dismisses as beside the point, in particular if the opposition does get a ⅔ or even a ⅗ majority. If you’re the kind of person who needs smelling salts at the mere mention of negotiation with chavistas, you’ll dismiss this. But the incoming MUD leadership is made up of professional politicians: cutting deals is their job description.

So, what might that deal look like? What might the MUD be willing to offer Chavismo (presence in the judiciary, immunity from prosecution, space to function as an opposition party) in return for Maduro’s resignation, if it comes to that? What laws, what protections, what policies might the MUD push for in exchange for supporting a unity government, if Maduro were to propose one?

More than Romania in 1989 or Russia in 1917—Quico’s comparisons—Venezuela in 2016 brings to mind Mexico after 1988. In all likelihood Mexico’s ruling party, the PRI, lost the presidential election that year. But the PRI-controlled electoral council handed them the presidency anyway, and the PRI’s Carlos Salinas de Gortari took power.

Both the PRI and the opposition had bargaining power, and a long, delicate negotiation ensued. In return for recognizing the (fraudulent) PRI victory, the opposition PAN was able to keep the seats it won in the lower chamber of congress, eliminating the PRI supermajority. The PRI needed that supermajority in order to modify the constitution to allow President Salinas’s economic agenda; without the supermajority, it needed the PAN. The PAN agreed to support Salinas’s economic agenda in exchange for the establishment of a truly independent electoral council. The PAN made this deal with people who, they were persuaded, had just stolen an election. That handshake paved the way for the PAN finally taking the presidency in 2000.

True, the PSUV is no PRI, in ways too numerous to count. But like the PRI in 1988, Chavismo—despite losing a majority of the popular vote—still has bargaining power.

In any case, both Quico’s scenario and mine share an important feature. Whether the MUD just “finds power on the street and picks it up,” as Quico says, or negotiates with a still-relevant Chavismo, as I expect, the MUD needs a plan.

We’ve heard something about what the MUD would do with a simple majority. Despite polls pointing clearly in that direction, opposition leaders remain skeptical about the possibility of getting ⅔ or even ⅗. But if the probability of that event is even ten percent—and it’s certainly higher than that—it’s worth preparing for. We’re eight days from the election. So, what is the MUD’s plan for wielding those supermajority powers?