Venezuela: Nicolás Maduro Re”Elected”

It is without any great surprise that Nicolás Maduro won Venezuela’s latest presidential election on Sunday, May 20th. The polls had not closed yet that some countries have already condemned the unfair elections. Among them, the United States, as the usual main critic of the current Venezuelan administration, followed by Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many more. Later, as a stunt following the last election, a bloc of 14 countries of the Lima Groups, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, etc. recalled their ambassadors to Venezuela. It appears indeed that the country that was once a leader in the region has long lost many allies. But not only the unfairness of the democratic life in the country makes the others criticize, the figure of Nicolás Maduro itself seems to be problematic.

Political Disengagement

More than 67.7% of the votes were attributed to Nicolás Maduro a few weeks ago during the presidential election. This high score is not unusual, but the low participation rate is. Even though 75% of the population disagrees with Maduro’s way of governing the country according to the polls, it may be surprising to see that only 46% of the electorate exercised its right to vote. On the last presidential election, participation rate hit almost 80%. This observation could be a confirmation of the disengagement of the population towards democratic institutions.

Electoral workers process ballots at a polling station during the presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bell

However disengagement would not necessarily be a synonym of inertia or lack of interest of the population towards politics. If some 46% of the electorate went to the polls on May 20th, we may also assume that the call for a boycott from the opposition was a success. Four of the five most serious opposition leaders were unable to run the elections. The low participation rate is also a “tour de force”, testifying the low trust of people towards the institutions and voluntarily giving low credibility and legitimacy to Maduro’s administration. 

Chavismo Failure or World Conspiracy’s Crisis

The situation of Venezuela has broken news for years now. Since 2012, the country is facing a humanitarian, economic, political crisis. Food, medicine, money, electricity, etc. are cruelly lacking, while it is said that 90% of the Venezuelan people face daily food insecurity. The reasons are multiple, and hyperinflation is among them. Since 2015, GDP has fallen by 40%, prices have increased by 8 800 % between March 2017 and March 2018, and inflation could reach nothing less than 13 000 % this current year. Numbers and figures are surely frightening.

In 2013, after the death of the Chavismo thinker and loved leader Hugo Chávez, the appointed successor, Nicolás Maduro was democratically elected. Even though he followed Chavez’s doctrine, Maduro has never had his predecessor’s attractiveness. Besides, since then, the country has plunged into this unprecedented crisis. Some would say the Chavismo has to be accounted responsible for such economic failure, some others would say it is a matter of “internationally” isolate a country, with sanctions, so that internal conditions are so bad, the “world” could then shape it at will. Again, the chicken or the egg.

Not the Man of the Situation

But beyond the inevitable conspiracy theories, Nicolás Maduro surely divides. Not only his people, but the world. He is not the typical polished diplomatic statesman. He has more of a Trump or Duterte of these days than a Trudeau or Macron. Still, for Venezuela, the man at the head of the country might just be one more obstacle to the country’s stability. Indeed, it is one thing to have a state system that does not fit the current world system, to have a state that wants to follow an alternative path, de facto marginalized one, it is something else to have Nicolás Maduro at the head of the country. When both conditions apply, there is little hope for the people. Even though Maduro might have the support of a part of the Venezuelan population still living in the country (since 2015, an estimated 1.5 million Venezuelan people could have left, the figure of Maduro is itself problematic. The man is known for his trenchant rhetoric, a rhetoric that leaves little place for dialogue. And, of course, many would acclaim his affront, him standing alone straight, facing the rest of the world, refusing to be part of that system and, above all, be shaped by that system. However, it is difficult to imagine how Venezuela exit the crisis not only because the country keeps trying to swim in the Russia-Cuba-China-Iran-etc. alternative international axis, but mainly because of Maduro. When we hear Maduro tell the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, throwing a typical “swallow your medicine, your drugs and your cocaine!” we know that Maduro really makes no efforts in making friends, neither in keeping them.

Juan Manuel Santos and Nicolas Maduro

Even with reserve, most countries are able to maintain “OK relations” with other countries that are not aligned with their economic system, international positions or national interest. Indeed, many factors among them, economic links, diplomatic relations, etc. assure that the world maintains a certain order. This said, we often make a misreading of international relations based too much or only on a “two-man relation”. However, this reading of the world is not mistaken for leaders like Maduro who has a real power to define his country’s foreign relations. Since the man took the lead of the country, we have seen him pursuing the work of the world order main critic that had begun his predecessor in 1992, but Maduro has a different tone. Even traditional allies seem to be wincing.

Perhaps Maduro knows that he cannot offer his people the same conditions Chavez had put in place, perhaps Maduro feels the whole world has been against him, a situation that is understandably frustrating. One thing is sure, Maduro is not helping, nor is the world. In this tensed international relation, Venezuelan people is taken hostage.

The future mandate of Nicolás Maduro begins on January 10, 2019, for 6 years, but the man has already sworn in. On Wednesday, the new Cuban leader, Miguel Diaz Canel, decided to make his first foreign visit meet with Maduro, a traditional bilateral relation that should not soon be undermined. However, at his Eastern border, Maduro will soon have to deal with a new interlocutor. The candidate who is currently leading the polls, Ivan Duque, qualified Maduro as a “dictator” and “genocidal”, while his opponent, former Bogota Mayor, Gustavo Petro, is often compared to Maduro for his critics, to Chávez for most observers. During the Colombian presidential election, Venezuelan refugees has been an important topic. We bet that both candidates have exploited the issue for political gain, whether Nicolás Maduro likes it or not.