Legal challenges to the close 14 April presidential election and the government’s reluctance to commit to a full review cast a shadow over the sustainability of the new administration in an already deeply polarised Venezuela.
Venezuela: A House Divided, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the presidential election triggered by the death of President Hugo Chávez. Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s chosen successor, won by a margin of less than 1.5 per cent over Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity alliance. The opposition has claimed irregularities and filed a court challenge after the electoral commission refused to conduct a full audit. The judiciary and other key institutions have been hollowed out in the fourteen years of Chávez’s rule, creating uncertainty about whether the transition to the post-Chávez era can be accomplished smoothly.
The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
- An already polarised country is now clearly divided into two almost equal sides that appear irreconcilable. Dialogue and reconciliation are essential to maintain stability, but doubts surrounding the election must be clarified for this to happen.
- The power vacuum produced by Chávez’s death is a source of potential instability. An extremely personalised political regime has been replaced by an unpredictable collection of group and even individual interests. The Chávez government dismantled important elements of democracy and the rule of law over the past fourteen years, and the costs are now being paid by the population, with homicide rates among the highest in the world and rising economic dislocation.
- Venezuela’s government should recognise that the sharp division of the electorate necessitates consensus building, not a partisan agenda. It should build bridges to the opposition, the private sector and civil society, conduct dialogue to reduce tensions and avoid violence.
- The international community has been mostly indifferent or silent about the deterioration of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela. It is time for stronger messages, particularly from neighbours and partners such as Brazil and regional organisations, regarding the need to avoid regional instability by resolving the political impasse peacefully and promoting democracy, rule of law and human rights, as well as offering mediation assistance if requested.
“Venezuela urgently needs to reconstruct its social and political fabric in the post-Chávez era”, says Mark Schneider, Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America. “It needs to avoid political violence and accept democratic checks and balances in addressing the huge challenges of crime and economic deterioration”.