Venezuela prepares for elections, opposition could win majority

The influence on Venezuela's politics by former President Hugo Chávez's party is waning.
By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  Aug. 4, 2015 at 2:52 PM
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- As candidate nominations begin nationwide, Venezuela is setting the stage for parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 6, when President Nicolás Maduro's ruling party could see a significant loss.

After years of dominating Venezuelan politics, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) may lose its congressional majority. Nominations for candidates will extend until Friday for the December elections to chose 167 National Assembly members.

Venezuela has the fastest annual inflation rate in the world, estimated at 108 percent, and one of the highest homicide rates. Shortages of basic goods, such as food, toilet paper and medicine have eaten away at Maduro's approval rating, which in May was at about 25 percent.

Maduro's approval rating is expected to deteriorate further as Venezuela's economy worsens.

A recent poll put opposition candidates winning the December elections with about 56 percent of votes, whereas the ruling PSUV would only get about 30 percent.

The PSUV's predecessor, Movimiento Quinta República (MVR), was founded in 1997 by Hugo Chávez, who went on to win Venezuela's 1998 presidential election with about 56 percent of votes.

MVR was dissolved in 2007 and transformed into the PSUV in an attempt to unite all political parties loyal to former President Chávez, who died from cancer in 2013.

Under the Venezuelan constitution, a new election was called after Chávez's death, which Maduro, who was then vice president, won by a narrow margin of about 1.6 percent. Chávez won the election over the same candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, with about 11 percent of votes just six months prior. Voter turnout for both elections was about 80 percent.

Radonski leads the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) 29-member political coalition, which recently announced that it will list all candidates together under a single ballot card in an attempt to signal unity.

Opposition parties have often been divided on handling Venezuelan politics, where some are adamant hard-liners calling for the immediate removal of Maduro through protests, while others seek change through elections.

Venezuela's government under Chávez and Maduro has been accused of corruption and inefficacy that have worsened the country's problems. Nationwide political dissonance also leads into accusations of electoral fraud, including of voter suppression and ballot destruction or invalidation.

Maduro declared that Venezuela will not allow international organizations to monitor its elections.

"Venezuela is not and will not be monitored by anyone," Maduro recently said during a visit to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. "Our country won't accept it, ever."

The MUD coalition is hoping to make gains on dissent generated in last year's massive nationwide protests that called for improved security, an end to food shortages and enhanced freedom of speech. About 43 people died, both government supporters and opponents, in the protests.

Due to the protests, Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will opposition party and former mayor of Chacao, was arrested in February 2014 on charges of inciting violent anti-government protests.

Maduro's government has been continuously urged by critics to release political prisoners who have been jailed on charges such as corruption and inciting violence, including the mayor of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, and Daniel Ceballos, the former mayor of San Cristobal.

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