Venezuela’s opposition is facing a “deep political crisis”, analysts say, as fractures within the coalition have emerged following the surprise loss in this month’s regional elections.
Four out of five opposition governors in Venezuela accepted their elected posts last week in defiance of the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD).
The four opposition politicians broke with the official MUD line when they chose to acknowledge the National Constituent Assembly, which is aligned with President Maduro’s party, and be sworn in as governors.
MUD, which was expected to win a majority in the October 5 elections, refused to accept the result of the polls, calling the elections fraudulent – an allegation the government denies.
Additionally, MUD has maintained that the National Constituent Assembly is “illegitimate” and called on its winning candidates to refuse to be sworn in by the body.
Maduro’s ruling PUSV party took 18 of the 23 seats up for grabs.
The only opposition candidate to maintain MUD’s official stance was Juan Pablo Guanipa, the governor-elect of the oil-rich Zulia state.
On Thursday, the National Assembly approved a decree to hold a new election in the state.
Guanipa stressed that his decision to not be sworn in by the National Assembly “was not easy, but being faced with a dictatorship forces us to act with conviction, strength and consistency“.
At the same time, he said he was aware that this decision would bring dire consequences.
“I am emotionally, rationally, and spiritually prepared … for any consequence as a result of the actions we are taking,” he said.
The decision by the other winning candidates to accept the National Assembly has exposed deepening divisions within the opposition, which analysts argue has given momentum to Nicolas Maduro and his party.
“These results have generated a deep political crisis within the opposition,” Ramon Pinango, a sociologist and analyst, said.
“The government can seize these hours of confusion to advance their political power,” he told Al Jazeera.
The National Assembly on Thursday called for local mayoral elections in December. The government was expected to call the elections for next year, but some, including Pinango, argue Maduro is taking advantage of the opposition’s fractures, believing it will have the success it had in the regional elections.
A political confrontation
MUD has refused to acknowledge the National Assembly, which overrode the opposition-run national congress in July.
By being sworn in by the National Assembly and accepting the results of the October 5 elections, the governors of the states of Tachira, Merida, Nueva Esparta and Anzoategui broke with the opposition’s official line, and experts say this showed a fracture within the coalition.
“The Chavismo not only managed to win critical elections, they also managed to put the opposition in crisis by leading them to an electoral confrontation,” Marco Terugi, an author and political analyst, explained.
Many MUD supporters viewed the governors’ actions as a “sellout”.
Popular opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, broke away from the coalition after the four governors, who are all part of the Democratic Action party (AD), were sworn in.
Capriles said he would not be a part of MUD as long as Henry Ramos Allup, leader of AD, one of the biggest parties within the MUD, was a member.
Sin duda vamos hacia una NUEVA UNIDAD!En las peores crisis y circunstancias siempre surgen oportunidades!Por encima siempre Venezuela!
— Henrique Capriles R. (@hcapriles) October 23, 2017
Translation: “We are going to see a new unity. In the worst crises and circumstances, opportunities always crop up.”
Andres Velasquez, an opposition candidate who lost in Bolivar state also condemned the four leaders who were sworn in before the assembly.
1/ 3.- Gobernadores que se arrastraron ante ilegitima e inconstitucional ANC, merecen el mayor repudio nacional.
— Andres Velasquez (@AndresVelasqz) October 23, 2017
Translation: “The governors who crawled and went to the illegitimate and unconstitutional ANC, deserve greater national repudiation.”
The AD’s Allup lamented the reactions, saying “many see this as a golden opportunity to shoot against Democratic Action”.
He added: “It pains me that instead of facing together the crisis the country is in, we shoot at each other.”
Capriles accused Allup of being Maduro’s chosen “opposition candidate” for the 2018 presidential election.
“He is obviously the candidate Nicolas Maduro wants, Maduro finally found his official opposition candidate,” Capriles said.
The opposition leader’s comments came after Maduro said in a press conference that he would “wait for” Allup in 2018.
But many believe that the struggle within the opposition goes much deeper.
Rachid Yasbek, an opposition member and coordinator of First Justice party in Bolivar state, told Al Jazeera that there are two competing models within the coalition.
“We have a model that defends the old way of doing politics, and is seeks to accommodate … and the other that is willing to give everything for the country,” he added, referring to opposition leaders who called for near-daily street protests earlier this year.
Yasbek and his First Justice party believe protests are the real way to bring about change.
“Our duty with the country is to fight for our democracy, that is why our party (First Justice), and leaders like Capriles, and Juan Pablo [Guanipa] fighting for this change,” Yasbek said.
But some analysts believe the coalition is breaking away from the protest model and moving toward one that is more willing to speak to the government.
Javier Buenrostro, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Al Jazeera that the opposition is already seeing a transition away from those who supported the protests to Allup, who many believe is willing to talk to the government.
“What we are seeing now is the fracture of the right, and a transition to Henry Ramos [Allup] within the coalition,” Buenrostro said.
He added that Allup “will have the opportunity to lead the opposition”.
But he said he is not sure the opposition leader can win in 2018.
Buenrostro added, however, that “it will make him [Allup] more competitive, and maybe give him the chance to work within the framework of a ‘pacted’ democracy”.
Deep economic crisis
While the political crisis escalates, the country is also gripped by a rising economic crisis.
The Lima Group, formed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, held a meeting on Thursday in Canada to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.
In a statement, the group said: “child malnutrition stands at 11.4 percent, equivalent to a state of crisis according to world standards, primary school dropout rate has increased by 45 percent, and the cost of the basic food basket has increased by 343 percent in the last year”.
As many as 85 out of every 100 medicines are not available, and diseases that were believed to have been eradicated, such as malaria, have increased by 76 percent.
While the opposition blames Maduro and his economic policies for the humanitarian crisis, the government’s supporters say the opposition parties do not offer any alternatives.
“I don’t think the opposition parties are offering a real alternative to bring change,” Zumira Cardozo, a government support, told Al Jazeera.
“We reached to this point, due to the economic war they have imposed against the government”, she added.
Many also believe the opposition is paying a high price for a failed strategy.
“To be incoherent has been the opposition’s biggest failure, to say something today, and do something else tomorrow, this has weakened its political reach,” sociologist Pinango explained.
“Now they are forced to change, and come up with a better strategy,” he said.