Nicolas Maduro’s re-election under scrutiny

TRANSLATED BY RHONA KAPPLER AND PROOFREAD BY CHRISTI DU TOIT

On the 20th of May, in a rather unsurprising turn of events, it was announced that former president Nicolas Maduro had been re-elected to lead Venezuela, a country struggling with national crisis since 2014. Both the people of Venezuela and the international community have reacted very strongly to the news of this result.

The re-election of Nicolas Maduro couldn’t come at a tenser time for Venezuela. His next presidential term will last six years, and begins in January 2019.

Minimum service

Nicolas Maduro was in a good position to win these elections, despite the fact that the majority of the population resent his time in power. Maduro won with 67.7% of the vote, although the abstention rate rose to 52%. His opponent Henri Falcón came behind Maduro with 21.2% of the vote, while Javier Bertucci and Reinald Quijada are contesting the result due to claims of ‘fraud’. Maduro came to power in 2013 after the death of his friend and associate Hugo Chávez. At the start of 2017, Maduro’s approval rating was only at 24%, increasing slightly by December’s municipal elections. His party were successful in winning this election after the opposition withdrew due to a boycott of the voting process. Nicolas Maduro’s main opponent, Henri Falcón, chose to abandon the rival coalition (MUD) to run as a candidate against Maduro in a grasp for power. After the results of the initial election, Falcón called for new elections in December, the usual time of year for presidential elections in Venezuela, as that year the government had agreed on calling an early election.

An election deemed “illegitimate”

Despite winning the majority, Nicolas Maduro is far from winning hearts and minds in Venezuela or in the international community. Many countries have spoken out against the re-election of the Venezuelan President. The fourteen countries that make up the Lima Group – an alliance of North and South American and Caribbean countries including Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Mexico – were the first to make a decision. Considering the elections as illegitimate, the fourteen countries of the Lima Group announced on the 21st of May that they would recall their ambassadors from Venezuela as a sign of protest. The member countries “reiterated their concern for the deepening political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis that has deteriorated the standard of living in Venezuela, which is reflected in the massive migratory influx of Venezuelans to our countries…”. In the European Union, several countries such as Spain and France have also denounced the presidential elections. An official statement released by the French diplomatic service expresses this disapproval: “together with our partners in the European Union, France wishes to express doubt concerning the transparency and equity of the vote. The record low participation rate confirms that the majority of Venezuelans do not consider the election to be neither legitimate nor credible.” However, some countries such as Russia, Cuba and Bolivia have congratulated Nicolas Maduro on his victory.

A never-ending crisis

Venezuela is a country in crisis. 2017 saw 120 deaths and more than 600,000 Venezuelans fled the country. The country possesses some of the largest oil reserves in the world, and as the economy and public services rely on oil money, the fall in oil prices has provoked huge welfare cuts. This in turn has led to the government losing the support of the working-class population. Nicolas Maduro is also considered responsible for both the country’s huge inflation rate and the lack of police officers that has led to increased rates of violence. The country is now one of the most violent places in the world. A photo by Ronaldo Schemidt, winner of the World Press Photo Award 2018, shows a young protestor set on fire: a visual representation of the violence experienced during the Venezuelan crisis. Many residents are fleeing the country to escape the misery caused by Maduro and his government. Shortages of food, water, medicine, and electricity are a frequent problem. The average monthly salary in 2012 – 1092 dollars according to the World Bank – plummeted after the drop in oil prices. It is impossible to truly know how far this figure has fallen. Despite efforts to introduce a 95% increase in the minimum wage from the end of April, the inflation rate has shot up to a whopping 13800%. On top of this, Venezuela is now facing new American sanctions following Maduro’s re-election.

The people of Venezuela are tired and fed up, and yet they were still expected to turn up and vote. The high abstention rate is partially due to the opposition’s lack of appeal. The alternative options were either Henrique Capriles Radonski, known as “el flaquito” (the feeble), member of one of the richest families in Venezuela, or Harvard graduate Leopoldo López, who has spent his life in the United States. The choice faced by Venezuelan voters brings to mind the famous quote by German philosopher and poet Bertolt Brecht: “in certain situations, the only possible choice is between disbelief or heresy.”

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