Venezuela's president has praised grassroots members of his ruling coalition for winning back control of the country's parliament - despite a shocking 69 per cent abstention rate.
Nicolás Maduro thanked the Great Patriotic Pole coalition led by his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its local organisations, the Hugo Chávez Battle Units - named after his late predecessor and party founder - for the landslide victory by 68 per cent of the vote.
“I congratulate the GPP and the men and women of the Hugo Chavez Battle Units (UBCh) because overcoming the difficulties of the blockade and the Pandemic, they have gone out to vote," Maduro tweeted. "We won with votes, we beat the evil opposition and we can say that a change of cycle is coming, positive, virtuous, of work and recovery.”
— Nicolás Maduro (@maduro_en) December 9, 2020
Maduro also sent a warning to the the next US administration that Venezuela would not kow-tow to Washington in return for the lifting of sanctions imposed under President Donald Trump and his predecessors.
"We have tried to maintain respectful relations with the current US government, talking to emissaries on several occasions, but extremism has prevailed. We are not and will never be a Yankee colony, based on that principle, we will always be willing to understand each other."
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) December 8, 2020
But Venezuelanalysis.com journalist Paul Dobson, a British-born resident of the South American country and frequent television pundit, highlighted how turnout had plummeted from 74 per cent at the last National Assembly election in 2015 to just 30.5 per cent this year.
"Sunday's election saw the ruling PSUV reassert they their authority and political hegemony over the legislative body," Dobson told Sputnik, but noted that "abstention in Sunday's election was high, around 69 per cent" - and listed a series of reasons why.
"First we've got the general apathy and disillusionment with the political leadership and the fact that people are really looking for solutions, and very few parties are offering them solutions," Dobson said. "They're offering them an explanation of the causes behind the problems in the country, but not so many solutions. And this has allowed so many people to be demobilised and discontented with politics in general."
The journalist said the problems faced by voters in their daily lives as a result of US and European Union sanctions - which has seen a chronic fuel shortage in the major oil-producing nation and citizens cutting down trees for firewood - also dissuaded many from going out to vote on a Sunday.
"A lot of people are generally exhausted from the harsh living conditions we've suffered here for the last couple of years," Dobson said. "A lot of people would have been in a queue for car fuel or for cooking gas instead of going to vote," while others were resting and relaxing with their families after working up to five different jobs to try and make ends meet with hyper-inflation wiping out the value of their wages, walking long distances to work because of a lack of public transport amid the national fuel crisis.
Dobson also pointed out that mass emigration amid the economic crisis meant that 20 to 25 per cent of citizens on the electoral roll - several million of the 30 million population - were now living outside the country, and while they were entitled to vote they physically could not. And he said the electoral authorities had arbitrarily and "without people's consent" reassigned voters to polling stations far from where they usually voted, increasing the level of "forced abstention".
"It was fairly predictable that the PSUV would regain control of the National Assembly," Dobson said, as the opposition parties - united in the Democratic Unit Roundtable (MUD) coalition in 2015 - had split into four blocks, with a consequent reversal of the two-thirds super-majority they won in 2015 to one for the PSUV.
Former National Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó, whose claim to the presidency in early 2019 was recognised by the US and other Western nations, Colombia and Brazil, called for a boycott of the election along with other MUD leaders. But the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) intervened in internal squabbles in Guaidó's Popular Will (VP) party, Justice First (PJ), Democratic Action (AD) and Copei. A rump of AD led the Democratic Alliance coalition in the election, while the anti-Guadó faction of VP joined the United Venezuela list.
The TSJ also ruled in favour of dissident factions in several parties that broke away from the GPP to form the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR), including Tupamaro, Fatherland for All and Red Flag, forcing them to run candidates under the allied Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) banner.
PCV General Secretary and National Assembly deputy Oscar Figueroa said there had been "irregularities in the electoral process" but they did not "set the scene for electoral fraud" at a national level. He added that the PCV had no basis for a formal complaint at the moment.
— Partido Comunista de Venezuela (@PCV_Ve) December 9, 2020
Some 200 international observers certified the elections as free, fair and transparent.
But Dobson said the "left-wing challenge to the ruling party" had "suffered severe censorship during the campaigning" by state television - which they blamed for their poor showing, winning only around three per cent of the vote and one seat in the assembly.
"The government has shown an increasingly strong hand in marginalising and shutting up dissident groups, both from the left and the right, and this has caused a lot of people to feel disenfranchised," Dobson said. "And this doesn't help in increasing participation in the political process."
The PSUV's super-majority could be followed by a similar sweep of the board in next year's mayoral and state governor elections if the opposition repeat their boycott, Dobson says, but that will only lead to greater discontent with political structures.
"The PSUV to date hasn't provided significant political solutions to the problems in the country, at least in the last four to five years, and many now associate them with being a major part of the cause of them," he said. "So until there's a political shift in their policies, then I really don't think they'll stimulate greater political participation."
But all signs are for "continuity" of existing policies, Dobson noted, citing as example years of government promises to allow civil matrimony unions. Despite controlling the National Constituent Assembly elected in in 2017 to draft changes to the constitution, the government failed to deliver on their pledge - but are now claiming the National Assembly will legislate for it.
What's more, Dobson says, "there isn't a sufficient counterweight" to the PSUV to "put the brakes" on some of their unpopular policies. "In the economic sphere we've seen increasing neoliberal policies from the ruling party, including tax breaks to foreign multinationals, privatisations of state firms" and the weakening or repeal of labour rights.
"We see no real opposition to this in the National Assembly, and this is worrying," he said. This means we will see these policies strengthened over the next few years, and this will impact on the poorest people in Venezuela the most."
And he warned that as long as the opposition parties remain divided, with some abstaining from elections, it was hard to see how they would regain power. "They're still not providing any solutions for the people."
Dobson concluded that without a significant shift in the state power structures, Venezuela would see more "semi-neoliberal economic policies, in favour of big capital and to the detriment of the working class," while "day-to-day life will continue to be harsh", while the "US' imperialist and illegal blockade continues and the government fail to find any solution to counteract it," he said.
"We can expect the rich in Venezuela to continue getting richer, and we can expect foreign investment to dominate over local development."