The Venezuelan opposition won a parliamentary majority in elections last weekend. While the government’s defeat has been clear, the latest tally suggests that Democratic Unity coalition has mustered the two-thirds majority that will allow it to overrule President Nicolas Maduro. Given the commitment of Maduro and his supporters to the “Bolivarian Revolution” of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, even a supermajority may not be enough.
According to the latest tally by the election commission, the Democratic Unity coalition won 109 seats in the 167-seat assembly and the ruling Socialist party claimed 55; the other three are nonpartisan seats for indigenous representatives, and opposition says all three will join them, providing 112 seats, or a two-thirds majority that will allow the legislature to check and overhaul strongholds of Socialist power such as the courts and the electoral council. The coalition could even call a constitutional assembly to write a new national charter.
The opposition’s victory reflects widespread discontent with Maduro’s economic program. Venezuela has some of the world’s largest oil reserves, but mismanagement brought about a collapse in the national currency — it has lost 97 percent of its value — along with inflation of 124 percent. Real wages have fallen 36 percent in the two years since Maduro took office. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a 10 percent contraction of the economy in 2015.
Maduro has said he accepts the results, but it is still feared that he will try to muster extra-parliamentary opposition in the streets or through those institutions he still controls. He won’t succeed if the opposition stays united, but that is by no means guaranteed.
Fortunately for the opposition, Maduro has been a ham-fisted leader who lacks the charm and charisma of his predecessor. The Democratic Unity coalition must both outflank and coopt the president as it constructs a governing program. The tide has turned in Venezuelan politics, but the opposition must remember that tides ebb and flow.
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