Why the Opposition Needs Elections

Here's an extract from Friday's Political Risk Report

The pro-elections instincts of opposition parties have kicked in, and the drive to participate in the regional elections—particularly intense among the grassroots and regional ranks—is taking over. Everyone there knows that the conditions are lacking and that these elections could well be the carrot followed by the stick, as has happened before. However, most parties finally announced they’re taking part in the November elections. Why? 

Participating in the November elections means more than simply grabbing what many describe as the only available option (besides doing nothing). Venezuelan political parties are designed to compete in elections. This is what they know, and this is what they need in order to exist: the possibility of acquiring power and perks through regional or national parliaments, mayorships, governorships, or (before 1998, of course) the country’s presidency—which in turn is a gateway to influence, and even wealth. This is the driver that allows parties to recruit members and build organizations. PSUV isn’t exactly the same, because the ruling party can provide more opportunities to non-elected officials—the protectorates, for instance. In the opposition, the only way to approach power is to win elections. 

In consequence, elections are an offer too hard to refuse for the opposition. The Maduro regime knows it and is using it as part of its considerable leverage in this negotiation: with its control over national institutions, chavismo can, in practice, call elections whenever it wants to and stimulate the opposition’s raison d’être, making it enter the path the government wants their adversaries to be in right now: those elections that won’t threaten the main powers and could open the possibility of sanction relief. This is why the government had no problem giving an extension on the deadline to register candidates—it was expected that many people in the opposition would want to join the electoral schedule. 

One more thing is in play here: as well as the decision of participating or not widened the rift between VP and UNT, PJ, and AD, the competition amid potential candidates will spread division within every party.

Those who aren’t supported by the party (like Daniel Ceballos in Táchira, who went rogue on Voluntad Popular) will break ranks and boycott unity. This has also happened in PSUV, but now there are fewer incentives for a PSUV member to leave the ruling party and join the opposition.

Opposition parties in Venezuela have accumulated know-how in competing in elections, and even in competing in elections with Chávez or Maduro as heads of state. This time, things aren’t exactly the same: they need to update that know-how to take advantage of these elections that are so hard to win, without money, popular support, and the usual logistics. Freddy Guevara, who was taken prisoner as a negotiation token, spoke this week about seeking “democratic coexistence” with the regime. This is a goal entirely different from the one that he and most of the opposition had two years ago, but even something like this (coexistence) is really hard to achieve.

In Friday’s PRR we dove deep into what’s going on behind closed doors as both government and opposition take on the Mexico talks and the November election.