Venezuela counts down to Sunday crucial vote, ruling party risks unprecedented defeat

Supporters of the Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) during a rally in Caracas, Dec. 2, 2015.

Supporters of the Mesa de la Unidad (MUD) during a rally in Caracas, Dec. 2, 2015.  (ap)

In a months-long campaign peppered with violence, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro famously warned the opposition: “You best pray we win.”

He also said, among other things, that Chavista candidates will win “by any means,” that he personally will not “relinquish power” and, more recently, that he “would take to the streets” if his candidates lose.

But the numbers are not with him. As of this week, most polls showed the opposition is expected to attain majority, between 90 to 99 seats of the 167 seats in the National Assembly. The opposition, a total of 14 political parties under Mesa de Unidad Democratica, currently holds 65 seats.

“We don’t see a scenario where we lose the election,” opposition leader and Assemblyman Julio Borges, told Fox News Latino and other media outlets on Wednesday. He alluded to the most recent Venebarometro poll which gives the opposition a 17 percent lead.

But Borges, one of a handful of opposition leaders that are neither outside the country or sitting in jail, said he fears violence in five key areas, all of them outside Caracas, which could affect the races for 15 seats and seriously impact the final count. Another big concern, he said, was a practice seen in the past?, where chavista militants coerce voters and hustle them into poll centers after voting hours.

“We fear selective violence in certain areas, surgical brutality,” he said. “But electionwise, no losing scenario for us,” he said.

Borges said Venezuelans are betting their hopes on this election and for that reason there is a deeper meaning in the Dec. 6 vote.

“There is a whole country that is seeking a different political and economic model here. People want change, not just to punish Maduro,” Borges said. “They want mutual understanding, dialogue and a healthy economy.”

He said it is actually encouraging that Venezuela is faced with such a serious economic crisis and yet there is no more violence in the country.

“Venezuelans want to achieve a miracle through the vote on Dec. 6. Not through violence, but through the vote,” he said.

The ruling party, PSUV, has won every national election except a 2007 constitutional referendum that would have expanded Chavez's powers.

Maduro is out of touch with Venezuelan reality, Borges said. “The government is acting like Chavez is still alive, as if the oil barrel is above $100 and [as if] Maduro’s approval rating is at 80 percent,” he said.

But Hugo Chavez, who took office in 1998 and led the country into a socialist Bolivarian Revolution, has been dead for almost three years, the oil barrel is around $34 and Maduro’s popularity is near-record lows – it has oscillated between 18 and 30 percent for all of 2015, according to Luis Vidal of More Consulting, a polling firm that works with the opposition.

“In February it reached its bottom, 18 percent, but now we are seeing an approval rate of 27 percent,” Vidal said. “It may look like a recovery – he said -  but Maduro’s approval rate was above 60 percent just 20 months ago.”  

Other local pollsters, such as Datanalisis, put Maduro’s approval above 30 percent, but according to Vidal that was a temporary spike caused by Christmas bonuses delivered to the 2 million-strong public sector.

Campaigning against chavismo “is like running a marathon, but with hurdles,” Borges said.

President Maduro is not letting Organization of American States officials supervise Sunday election -- only a team of observers from Unasur, a regional bloc founded by Hugo Chavez himself, will be allowed to monitor the vote.

Congressman Borges said he met with Unasur representatives Tuesday in Caracas and is confident they will prove objective.

The Unasur observers will be deployed in 11 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

“[During the meeting] we told them our concerns, and they were receptive,” Borges said. “We need to be responsible and not set off any unnecessary alarms. If we see the same problem, say, coerced vote in 50 voting centers, that’s a problem,” he said.

Carlos Camacho is a freelance writer based in Caracas. You can follow him @carloselpana.

Follow us on
Like us at