The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lost legislative elections Sunday for the first time in 17 years. The Democratic Unity Movement (MUD) center-right opposition coalition won a majority, 99 of the 167 seats in Venezuela’s unicameral National Assembly.
Results were announced five hours after polls closed, much later than people expected. As soon as the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the results, there were fireworks throughout Caracas. This election enjoyed a high level of voter participation, with 74.3% of eligible voters taking part in yesterday’s elections. Yesterday marks the beginning of the first time ever that the ruling Socialist government has to share power with the opposition in divided government.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro conceded last night and stated:
“We have come with our morals and our ethics to recognize these adverse results, to accept them and to say to our Venezuela that the constitution and democracy have triumphed. We have lost a battle today, but the struggle to build a new society is just beginning.”
Opposition leaders went to great lengths to make it clear both to Venezuelan and international media outlets alike that the election were results were in and that they are “irreversible” as was stated by 2013 presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. While there is no doubt that yesterday evening’s victory was groundbreaking for Venezuelan politics, the opposition was unable to reach the supermajority it truly desired.
Ultimately, last night’s election results were a referendum on the ruling Socialist Party’s handling of the economy. With oil prices having plunged in the past few years along with unsustainable social spending, the Venezuelan economy is in a state of utter disrepair. The country’s GDP will contract by 10 percent in 2015 and its inflation rate is the highest in the world at over 800%. Unemployment is also set to increase in 2016 to over 18 percent.
The opposition plans on making good on a variety of different campaign promises which they hope would result in a return to the rule of law. One of the top items in the opposition agenda is the release of political prisoners including Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of the Voluntad Popular political party. In February 2014, Leopoldo Lopez was imprisoned by the Socialist government for his role in peaceful, popular protests in Caracas. Lopez willingly handed himself over to the authorities so as to demonstrate his belief in the rule of law and out of concern for the safety of his family. In September, Lopez was sentenced to almost 14 years in prison after a brief trial which was roundly criticized for its lack of transparency and total illegitimacy.
Lopez wrote an Op-Ed Thursday for the publication Foreign Policy in which he urged his fellow Venezuelans to turn out and vote for change. Lopez also implored that the international community support democracy in Venezuela if it seems that the ruling Socialist government would engage in electoral fraud. It is worth noting that the ruling Socialist government did not allow for election monitors from either the Organization of American States (OAS) or the European Union (EU) to observe the elections. Many eyebrows were raised earlier this year regarding the legitimacy of the election results when The Carter Center shut down its Venezuela office in August. For many previous election cycles, The Carter Center has given legitimacy to the Chavez and Maduro regimes by declaring the country’s elections to be free and fair. The results of 22 seats have yet to be announced, the opposition expects to grow their majority from 99 to at least 112 once those remaining results are declared.
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