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Venezuela's Opposition Can’t Pick a Strategy to Oust the President, So It’s Trying Three

President Nicolás Maduro has never been weaker, but if the opposition doesn't agree soon they may miss their opportunity to regain power.
Imagen por Miguel Gutiérrez/EPA

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has never been weaker.

Three years after the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is in the middle of a deep political crisis and its economy is collapsing.

In December, voters stripped Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of its majority in the National Assembly for the first time since Chávez was elected in 1998. The government has admitted that inflation is in triple figures — 180 percent in 2015, according to the country's central bank — and some observers say the true number is double that. There are widespread shortages of essential goods, and it's virtually impossible to obtain basic items like mosquito repellent, which became a necessity when the Zika virus began to spread through the country.


But while it sounds like the perfect time for the opposition to seize the moment and push Maduro out before he finishes his term in 2019, they cannot seem to agree on anything beyond the fact that they all want to see him go.

"The opposition is fighting with each other while power-sharing," said pollster and political analyst Jesús Seguías. "They are showing-off who is better, who is the nicest, who can get further. It is a very narcissistic exercise. Everybody has their own personal agenda."

Related: The Opposition Wins a Landmark Victory in Legislative Elections in Venezuela

Earlier this month after a series of heated closed-door discussions, the main opposition leaders launched Route 2016, a plan to oust Maduro, a 53-year-old former bus driver. But rather than pursue a single strategy, they're trying three at the same time.

The first path is a constitutional reform to cut the presidential term from six to four years in order to hold new elections by the end of 2016. But the move would require the approval of the government's judicial branch and the support of a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, which the opposition does not have thanks to recent maneuvering by Maduro and his allies.

"The opposition lost that [two-thirds] majority when three deputies were excluded from the legislature after the high tribunal disqualified them for irregularities," said Luis Salamanca, political analyst and expert in constitutional law from the Central University of Venezuela.


Another option is to change the constitution and the structure of the state itself by holding a constituent assembly. It's a move that has not been attempted since Chávez used it to secure power in 1998.

This path, proposed by the Voluntad Popular party of incarcerated political leader Leopoldo López, is the most difficult to achieve because it requires three consecutive elections: One to choose the new members of the assembly, another to approve the new constitution, and a third to legitimize the powers obtained through the new constitution.

"It has the advantage that it could bring new rules to the game and change everything," Salamanca said. "The downside is the process of calling [the elections] within this context of crisis. One could even think that there is no money at all for new elections."

The third proposed route is what's known as a "revocatory referendum," which is essentially a popular vote to recall Maduro.

The Venezuelan constitution allows for this process to occur after the first three years of the presidential term, and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is currently campaigning for this option. The drawback is that the opposition would need to gather 4 million signatures in three days to formally request the referendum to the electoral authorities.

Watch: Last Days of Chavez's Legacy: The Fall of Chavismo in Venezuela

According to data from the polling company Datanálisis, seven out of 10 Venezuelans are against Maduro's government. The same study said that if elections were held today, the president would lose.


But given the opposition's indecisiveness and the fact that Maduro still controls the judicial branch, it might all be too little too late. Salamanca also noted that Maduro will not go quietly if the referendum is approved.

"It will happen like it always does: The government will use public resources to mobilize people, intimidate, and call people not to vote," Salamanca said.

The opposition called for mass demonstrations against Maduro when they presented their plan earlier this month, but so far the turnouts have been small.

Only 3,000 people showed up at a recent protest in Chacao, an opposition bastion and mid-high class neighborhood in Caracas, nowhere near the massive demonstrations against embattled President Dilma Rousseff in neighboring Brazil in the last few weeks.

Alberto Aranguibel, a pro-government political analyst, claims the MUD has failed because a majority of Venezuelans still support the government. "This past election the majority of people didn't vote to show their anger about the lack of food," he said. "In this country we have increased salaries, and not fired workers or foreclosed people's houses like the capitalist countries. And we give free healthcare and education."

The final possibility is that, given the depth of the current economic crisis, Maduro could simply choose to resign and leave the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas voluntarily. Unfortunately for the opposition, however, Maduro has already vowed to finish out his term.

"I will never give myself to the oligarchy, trust me," Maduro said at a recent demonstration. "Let's get out together from this storm.

Related: Venezuelans Are Almost Defenseless in the Face of Zika

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto