Although Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro’s term as president of Venezuela doesn’t end until 2019, he and the chavista political movement suffered a huge defeat Sunday in elections for the National Assembly.
About a half hour after midnight, the head of the country’s electoral body announced that the opposition coalition had won at least 99 of the 167 legislative seats. Cheers went up at the opposition’s campaign headquarters in a Caracas hotel. Another 22 seats had yet to be called, giving the opposition a possibility of winning an even larger majority.
The country has experienced a wrenching economic crisis in recent years. Opponents blame government mismanagement; Maduro — who is a tireless critic of the United States, as Chávez was — accuses enemies in the business community of sabotaging the economy to turn people against his government.
“I can say today that the economic war has triumphed,” Maduro said in a televised address. He added that he accepted the results.
Of course the result had nothing to do with an “economic war” against Venezuela.
There were certainly many reasons for this result, including increasing repression of the regime’s most outspoken opponents, out-of-control crime and corruption. But if I were to choose one reason above all others, it would be the collapse of oil prices (down about two-thirds since 2012) and the government’s utter failure to take advantage of higher oil prices to strengthen and diversify the economy. A regime so utterly dependent for its popularity on the subsidies and goods it could provide with huge oil profits suddenly found itself unable to provide the most basic goods to an increasingly angry and desperate population.
A lesson for other repressive and oil-dependent regimes like those in Russia and Iran? Probably one to be ignored as long as possible.
I wonder if Maduro’s friend “Heremy” has called to console him.
Much more at Caracas Chronicles.
Update: Venezuelan blogger Daniel Duquenal celebrates the opposition victory.