| Nicolás Maduro is often represented by Chavistas as a colorful rooster Venezuelanalysis | MR Online Nicolás Maduro is often represented by Chavistas as a colorful rooster. (Photo: Venezuelanalysis)

July 28, an equation with multiple unknowns

Originally published: Venezuelanalysis.com on July 1, 2024 by Clodovaldo Hernández (more by Venezuelanalysis.com)  | (Posted Jul 03, 2024)

There are several unknowns around the upcoming Venezuelan presidential elections on July 28, and everything seems to indicate that they will only be resolved on that day, when more than 21 million voters will be able to cast their ballots and decide whether to give President Nicolás Maduro six more years in office or opt for one of nine other presidential candidates in the race.

One of the key questions is how much of its electoral strength does Chavismo retain after 25 years in power, 11 of them under Maduro’s leadership. During his presidency, Maduro has faced all sorts of attacks from imperial power, from right-wing opposition machinations to betrayals from internal factors.

We will have to wait for the results to test the hypothesis arguing that Chavismo hit rock bottom between 2015 and 2019, but is beginning to rise from the ashes. This recovery is would be bolstered by a modest yet sustained economic recovery and the discredit of an opposition that showed its worst side during those years by encouraging and cheering the blockade and unilateral coercive measures. Opposition leaders even clamored for foreign military intervention and signed contracts hiring mercenary terrorists.

This hypothesis has been put forth by some analysts who believe that Maduro was considerably weaker in 2018, when—probably following Washington’s orders—the main opposition parties withdrew from the elections only to later call fraud on the results and set up the interim government of then legislator Juan Guaidó.

Maduro’s second wind, at 61 years old, has much to do with his ability to withstand all sorts of onslaughts: economic war; induced migration; street riots; electrical sabotages; attempted assassinations; a failed coup; an attempted armed invasion (Operation Gideon); attacks on the national currency; a total U.S. economic blockade, the theft of state companies, assets, and bank accounts abroad; and, on top of all that, the Covid-19 pandemic. Remaining in power amidst so many threats has allowed Maduro’s team to present an epic narrative for the election campaign, in which he is sometimes represented as a colorful fighting rooster.

Beyond this personal resilience story, the predicted redemption of Chavismo is marked by the general atmosphere of economic recovery that is felt in the streets of the main cities; this dramatically contrasts with the near-total prostration that we witnessed just a few years ago. The question, however, remains whether the majority of the electorate will give Maduro a vote of confidence based on the possible continuation of this reactivation, or if, even with this auspicious climate, people will want to generate a political change through electoral means.

The Opposition’s Strategy

There are nine opposition candidates, although the global media apparatus mentions only one of them and presents him as the aspirant unifying all forces opposing the Bolivarian Revolution: he is Edmundo González Urrutia, 74, a former Foreign Ministry official with no record in democratically elected office.

González Urrutia is another of the great unknowns of the electoral process: he was registered as a “placeholder” candidate (i.e., provisional) to secure a place on the ballot. The expectation by some was that he would be eventually replaced by far-right leader María Corina Machado, winner of a primary election process held by a sector of the opposition while already disqualified from holding public office.

Machado, 56, heiress to one of Caracas’ wealthiest families, has been the de facto candidate on the campaign trail: she has held numerous public events nationwide while González Urrutia appears physically weak and remains politically low-profile.

On July 28, we will know whether Machado’s electoral base is as large as she and her campaign team claim. We will also learn if her base transfers its vote to a nearly unknown, uninspiring, and uncertainty-generating nominal candidate.

The Machado-González campaign has aimed to rally the anti-Chavista vote, which has occupied a significant segment of the electorate for many years. With this in mind, this opposition sector has had to retract its repeated proclamations against the electoral path. After endlessly declaring that “a dictatorship does not fall with votes,” they are now asking that the people go back to the polls. The so-called G-4 parties (Democratic Action, A New Time, Justice First, and Popular Will) have refused to participate in most electoral processes held over the past seven years: National Constituent Assembly (2017); municipalities and governorships (2017); the 2018 presidential elections; and the 2020 parliamentary elections.

Machado’s political organization, Vente Venezuela (far-right), has been radically opposed to the electoral route and is not registered as a political party with the National Electoral Council.

Apart from González Urrutia, the other eight presidential candidates, spanning the center to the center-right, are:

  • Antonio Ecarri, Partido Lápiz/Party of the Pencil
  • Claudio Fermín, Soluciones por Venezuela/Solutions for Venezuela
  • Luis Eduardo Martínez, factions of Acción Democrática/Democratic Action and Copei
  • Benjamín Rausseo, Conde
  • Javier Bertucci, El Cambio/The Change (evangelical)
  • Enrique Márquez, Centrados/Centered and a fraction of the Communist Party
  • Daniel Ceballos, Arepa
  • José Brito, Primero Venezuela/Venezuela First

To a greater or lesser extent, all these candidates try to exploit the treasure hidden in the non-polarized segment of the population: the independents, those who are indifferent or fed up with both sides and their confrontations. This sector, often called the “Ni-ni” (neither-nor), has been steadily growing according to pollsters since the beginning of the last decade.

The PSUV and Government Strategy

For their part, Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), its allied parties organized in the Great Patriotic Pole, and the government, have developed a campaign with several axes. One of them is holding the opposition leadership that participated in the “interim government” accountable for the tremendous damage caused to the country by the U.S., European Union, and other countries’ sanctions and blockade.

This strategy has been apparently fruitful, partly because the opposition’s call for this arbitrary punishment was not a rumor, but it was public and notorious. Some opposition leaders, particularly the most extreme, still call for the blockade to be maintained and for the sanctions that have been eased in recent months to be toughened.

Another axis of the reelection campaign is the aforementioned emphasis on Maduro’s personal image. His public performances and campaign pieces aim to differentiate him from Machado, projecting himself as the empathetic leader of dialogue and peace, which is to be contrasted with the confrontational character of the disqualified far-right figure, who seems to seek a style similar to that of uncouth leaders such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, or Javier Milei.

At the same time, Maduro contrasts with the aged and wan González Urrutia by connecting with the youth through innovative social media formats or interacting with people in the streets and official events, with walks, dances, and other displays of energy.

Post-Election Scenarios

There are many variables when thinking about the day after the elections. Among them, one of the most important is the future of the anti-Chavista leadership: if González Urrutia is elected, it is obvious that all right-wing figures (including González Urrutia himself) will fall under Machado’s command. She will be the undisputed leader for non-Chavismo.

But if Maduro retains power, the post-election war among opposition leaders will be legendary. The tremendous rivalries within the G-4 will come to light, while the other eight opposition candidates and their respective parties will aim to occupy a larger space on the national political stage as they look ahead to 2025, which will be an electoral year with parliamentary, gubernatorial, legislative council, mayoral, and municipal elections.

In the scenario of an opposition defeat, it is not far-fetched to imagine that Machado will claim to be a victim of electoral fraud, as she and her entourage have begun to preemptively denounce. In such circumstances, Machado could follow the path Guaidó traced in 2019: self-proclaim as president and seek the support of the “international community” (the United States and its surrogates). This scenario would become more feasible if Donald Trump, the great promoter of the Venezuelan “interim government,” returns to power.

If Maduro renews his mandate, he will seek to keep the country on the path of economic growth while attempting to improve wealth distribution—the pursuit of equality is one of the pending issues for his 11-year-plus government. This is a particularly large debt for a government that advocates socialism.

After winning the October 2012 elections, Chávez announced major changes in the entire structure of his government, which he called “strike at the helm”; Maduro will have to do something similar if he is to start his third six-year term in the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

Clodovaldo Hernández is a journalist and political analyst with experience in higher education. He won the National Journalism Prize (Opinion category) in 2002. He is the author of the books Reinventario (poetry and short stories) De genios y de figuras (journalistic profiles) and Esa larga, infinita distancia (novel).

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.