Venezuela's right wing won a majority of seats in the country's National Assembly on Sunday, signalling a major political shift that President Nicolas Maduro said would not suppress Latin America's socialist revolution.
"This is not the time to cry," Maduro said Sunday, conceding to opposition leaders from the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) party, who claimed 99 out of 167 seats, though they may gain more as the ballots continue to be tallied. "It's the time to fight."
The closely-watched election handed MUD a "simple majority," while the ruling socialist coalition, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (USPV), held onto 46 seats. The rest of the seats are awaiting election results. It is the first time that the right wing has claimed a majority of seats in a legislative vote since the leftist leader Hugo Chavez ushered in a new era of socialist government in 1999.
David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told the Daily Beast Monday, "There's no more status quo after the vote. Whatever happens now is a turning point."
That includes the possibility of entrenched political divides paving the way for "a new authoritarian direction" for Venezuela, Smilde said.
While that would constitute a worst-case scenario, Mark Weisbrot, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said the very least Venezuelans can expect now is "a lot of gridlock."
"Even if the government wants to make economic reforms, Congress might not go along," Weisbrot said. "The opposition doesn’t consider the Chavistas [Maduro's party] a legitimate government."
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During his speech, Maduro said the results emerged from a conservative "counterrevolution" that aimed to destabilize his administration. He criticized what he described as a years-long campaign by opposition leaders and other influential political figures—backed by interests in the U.S.—to manipulate the Venezuelan economy to stir discontent among voters. That included a triple-digit inflation rate and consumer goods shortages, along with an escalating crime wave.
"A counterrevolution has triumphed, which has imposed its own way, its war," Maduro said. "I can say today that economic war has triumphed."
Throughout the country on Sunday, reactions from voters were mixed. Fireworks and celebrations broke out in the capital city of Caracas, where a wealthier contingent reportedly sipped champagne in the plaza and burned red shirts signifying revolutionary allegiance. But in the working class neighborhood of 23 de Enero, a retired construction laborer, Carlos Ortega, told the Guardian, "Things are going to get worse for us. My pension is going to disappear.... With an opposition win, all that is over."
With a simple majority, MUD's opposition leaders now have extensive powers. As WOLA explains, they may now:
- Issue a vote of no confidence in the Vice President and cabinet Ministers;
- Investigate and question public officials;
- Have a deciding role in the national budget and debt debates;
- Approve an amnesty law;
- Select the members of the Supreme Court of Justice;
- Approve laws on health, justice and basic goods;
- Name ambassadors;
- Convene national referendums on matters of special importance and amendments to the Constitution (with National Assembly approval);
- Attribute to states or municipalities certain issues that currently fall under national competence;
- Authorize the President to leave the country (for 5 days);
- Elect the President of the National Assembly, and its two Vice Presidents;
- Indict congressmen.
If the party wins any more seats, their powers will significantly increase.
Maduro praised the voters for a peaceful election and vowed to honor the democratic results—but assured his supporters he would not back down from his political endeavors.
"We have lost a battle today but now is when the fight for socialism begins," he said.