In the late-1970s, Daniel H. Levine concluded that “Venezuelans have achieved one of the few stable competitive political orders in Latin America”. But democracy cannot be taken for granted: on December 6, 2020, and after a major political decay, Venezuelan authoritarian ruler, Nicolás Maduro, held a parliamentary election that has been considered fraudulent by several countries.
By José Ignacio Hernández G./ openDemocracy
Venezuelan political decay has evolved at an astonishing pace. When Hugo Chavez -a former military, and an authoritarian and populist leader- was elected president in December 1998, according to V-Dem, Venezuela was a functionally democratic country. Despite a growing political crisis resulting from economic decline, conditions assured free and fair presidential elections.
But shortly after his election, and with powerful populist rhetoric, Chávez transformed Venezuela into competitive authoritarianism. After Chávez died, in 2013, Nicolás Maduro was elected president in a contested election. Despite the advance of authoritarianism, in December 2015 the democratic opposition was able to win the supermajority of the Venezuelan Congress, the National Assembly.
It was hoped that the 2015 parliamentary election was the beginning of Venezuela’s democratic restoration. But as Norris et al., concluded in “The Electoral Integrity Project: The Year in Elections, 2015”, “talks of the ‘end of Chavismo’ obscured the fact that the Venezuelan election performed poorly in all stages of the electoral cycle according to PEI experts, with an overall PEI Index of only 42 (global mean: 56)”. What happened after the election demonstrates the relevance of those warnings: thorough several “emergency decrees” and tens of rulings of the Supreme Tribunal -that Maduro controlled few days after the parliamentary election- the authority of the National Assembly was stripped down. Finally, in July 2017, Maduro organized a fraudulent election of a parallel assembly. As Steven Levitsky pointed, this was the end of democracy in Venezuela.
The weak competitive institutions were dismantled. Under those circumstances, Maduro’s parallel assembly organized the presidential election in May 2018. After Maduro was proclaimed president, several countries and organizations like the Organization of American States repudiated the election, as I explained here. As EIP concluded, in this election “Venezuela performs extremely poorly on electoral integrity throughout the various stages of the electoral cycle, well below the global average on all dimensions”. This report includes the following chart, with the PEI sub-dimension of the 2018 elections:
The evolution of the electoral democracy index -that measures the electoral competition for the electorate’s approval- summarized the breakdown of the electoral integrity conditions in Venezuela since the 1998 election of Chávez:
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Source: La Patilla