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Venezuelans Wonder How the Opposition Will Handle Victory and the Government Defeat

Sunday's stunning opposition victory in legislative elections has left Venezuela wondering what next, now that the ruling socialist party is no longer in near total control.
December 8, 2015, 1:39am
Photo by Manuare Quintero/EPA

Venezuela's capital Caracas began the week with a kind of collective hangover — a political one — following Sunday's landmark victory by the opposition in legislative elections that has dramatically changed the balance of power in the country.

While some still savored the euphoria of the game-changing result, others appeared distinctly groggy as they contemplated the fact that the ruling socialist party has lost control of the national legislature for the first time since Hugo Chávez became president and launched Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution.

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"I am happy because Venezuela voted for change," said Ana María García, a porter of a building in the Chacao neighborhood, an opposition bastion where cheerful music could be heard wafting out of windows. "Today we can breath differently. Even the light has a different quality."

In the nearby poor barrio of Catia, ruling party voter Wilmer Peitro had a very different take on the blow delivered to President Nicolás Maduro and his efforts to push forward the political project left in his hands after Chávez's death in 2013.

"I hardly slept thinking about what is coming in the coming months and where the opposition is going to take us," he said. "There is a lot of uncertainty."

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

The results released so far give 99 seat to the Roundtable of Unity coalition of opposition parties, the MUD — over double the 46 seats won by the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the PSUV. But the real depth of the change will depend on what happens to the remaining 22 seats that the national electoral authorities had yet to call over 24 hours after the polls closed.

In the TV address in which he accepted defeat as soon as the results were released in the early hours of Monday morning, President Maduro said "nothing will stop, nothing will halt, everything will continue along its path."

Screenshot via YouTube

This seems very unlikely.

If the opposition end up with 111 seats or more they will have an absolute majority and will be able to wield real power even in Venezuela's heavily presidential system.

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It would allow them to modify basic laws, remove members of the supreme court, change the composition of the electoral authorities, and name key functionaries such as the attorney general or the comptroller general. They could even call a constituent assembly.

Even if an absolute majority remains beyond their grasp, anti-government parties will still have the potential to, for example, authorize the supreme court to investigate deputies or refuse the president permission to go on an international trip.

And the ruling party is clearly worried either way. "The future National Assembly has to limit its functions," PSUV campaign chief Jorge Rodríguez told reporters on Monday. "The laws they [the opposition] approve have to fit with the constitution."

The opposition, meanwhile, has been giving mixed messages about what it intends to do with its new power once the new congress is inaugurated on January 5.

The MUD's victory statement pronounced, "This is not the time for the new majority to crush a minority," at the same time as calling for dialogue. Individual leaders, however, have been less diplomatic. "I believe the government is entering a process of disappearing," opposition leader Henry Ramos said. "It is melting."

Related: Opposition Leader Immediately Arrested Upon Returning to Venezuela

It is also still unclear what the opposition's priority will be. Some observers expect this to be an amnesty for imprisoned opposition leaders, others predict the first focus will be measures that attempt to address economic problems such as chronic shortages and rampant inflation.

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Much also depends, analysts say, on whether the government is willing to work with the opposition at all.

"It's difficult to predict what will happen," Political theory professor Colette Capriles told VICE News. "There are lots of factors and multiple possible scenarios in which the key issues are whether the opposition knows how to handle victory and the government joins the political game."

For the economist and analyst Angel Alayón, a lot comes down to whether Chavismo can start thinking of itself as a political movement rather than the vanguard of a revolution. "Chavismo will not disappear overnight, it has established deep roots in Venezuelan society over 17 years, " Alayón wrote in an opinion piece in the Prodavinci website. "Now it will have to participate on the political scene not as a revolutionary giant but as just another actor."

Related: No One in Venezuela Is Talking About Maduro's Relatives Who Were Busted on Drug Charges

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto