I wasn’t surprised that Diosdado Cabello moved today to force a presidential election in the first quarter of 2018. Rumors about this had been circulating for some time and, in its own twisted way, the government’s decision makes sense.

Why? Because our economic crisis can only get worse. Venezuelans do not have enough money for food or medicines as it is. Even for the few who do, food and medicines are nowhere to be found. The comatose productive sector is under merciless onslaught. And the Carnet de la Patria and CLAPs barely hold back the crisis. Public services and public transport are on their last legs.  

Other things being equal, you’d rather hold a vote when there’s less social conflict than when there’s more.

Screwed up though the country is, all signs point to things getting even worse. Social tension and conflict can only grow.

Social conflict on this scale carries risks. Why take chances? Sure, the government can steal an election whenever one is held. But other things being equal, you’d rather hold a vote when there’s less social conflict than when there’s more.

Not that the coming months will be easy. The government and PDVSA must pay bondholders some $2.5 billion — in capital and interest — between February and April this year. Chances of a messy default adjudicated by gringo courts are increasing by the hour. That would mean even less food and medicines for Venezuelans.

The opposition is at one of its lowest points ever. In the coming weeks AD, PJ and VP must revalidate their status as official political parties to maintain their access to CNE ballots. That’s unpopular among their followers, because it involves recognizing the current CNE, which brazenly stole at least one governorship last October and is blatantly partisan.

Rushing the timetable will make it difficult for the opposition to rally support behind a single candidate chosen via primaries. It’ll leave the eventual candidate basically no time to campaign, to organize against fraud, or to do any of the thousand other things he would want to do to be competitive.

To make matters worse, less than a week ago the opposition was a no-show at the negotiating table in the Dominican Republic. That helps the government frame today’s decision, saying it’s the opposition that doesn’t want to negotiate and that if they won’t even talk, they have no right to complain about the electoral conditions. And just like that — poof! — the prospect of credible international monitoring disappeared.

The government betting on a fratricidal debate over abstention to depress our turnout and hand them the election.

Many within the opposition are now convinced that elections are not the answer, spending their time daydreaming about Marine Expeditionary Forces instead of doing the hard work of organizing politically. This is a serious problem for the political parties as they seek to retain ballot access, or to mobilize voters for a primary election and for the presidential vote itself.

“If the opposition is not in it to win” some will surely argue, “there’s no point in taking part.”

You can be sure the government understands this dynamic. They’re betting on a fratricidal debate over abstention to depress our turnout and hand them the election.

Just to be clear: I don’t like it and I don’t approve it. We’re heading towards a blatantly unfair vote. I just hope that the opposition, instead of spending the next week criticising what they ought to have anticipated, starts organizing right away for what’s to come.

Time’s a’wastin’.

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