News by VICE

Venezuela's President Says He Will 'Never Allow' the Opposition to Win Sunday's Vote

Sunday's legislative election is a key test for both President Maduro and the ruling party's 16-year hold on power that has never faced as strong a challenge before.

by Alicia Hernández
Dec 4 2015, 4:40pm

Photo by Ariana Cubillos/AP

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has said he will get "out on the streets" if the political opposition wins key elections this Sunday that could break the ruling party's 16-year control of the national legislature.

"I will never allow this to happen, ever. I would go out on the streets and fight side by side with the people," Maduro said on Tuesday, during his weekly TV show.

With the country facing soaring crime and inflation, the opposition has a good chance of doing very well in Sunday's vote to elect the representatives in the National Assembly. Most opinion polls show the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, with up to a 20-point advantage over the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, which was set up by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chávez. Only pro-government surveys put the PSUV ahead.

Related: Venezuela Is Not a 'National Security Threat' After All, Obama Says

Throughout the electoral campaign Maduro — whose government's approval ratings are languishing around 22 percent — has made it clear he will not take a loss lightly.

In a mid-November television address the president told opposition members "to pray not to win." He has also said his party will win the Assembly "with whatever means necessary." The PSUV later used the phrase as a slogan: "We'll get to the Assembly with whatever means necessary."

The turnout in legislative elections in Venezuela tends to be relatively high, but lower than in presidential polls. While the 2013 presidential elections boasted the participation of 80 percent of the electorate, 66 percent voted in the 2010 legislative elections. Securing a simple majority requires winning 82 seats, while 112 seats are needed to obtain an absolute majority in the 167-member Assembly.

"The opposition has the best chance to secure a simple majority, but the polls cannot predict the future," Eugenio Martínez, an independent journalist and close observer of the elections, told VICE News. "We'll have to wait and see what happens on December 6, especially because of the outbreaks of violence that could affect votes for the opposition."

The opposition claims to have suffered up to seven attacks in less than 10 days of campaigning.

These included the assassination of a regional opposition party boss, Luis Manuel Díaz, who was shot and killed during a campaign rally in Guárico last month. The opposition insists it was a political hit, though the government has said Díaz's murder was part of a criminal settling of scores.

Related: Tension Grows in Venezuela With the Assassination of an Opposition Politician

Martínez added that the final tally could also be swayed by an operation late on polling day by the socialist movement to "mobilize and coerce voters" that could keep polling stations open into the evening.

Coverage of the elections has been notably biased throughout the campaign. Ruling party political advertising, as well as shows and interviews focused on its members, have dominated broadcasts on the state-owned Venezolana de Televisión. Even private channels and major newspapers have shown a similar lack of balance. Only El Nacional and the weekly Tal Cual have regularly published content about the opposition.

The government has also taken the concept of hand-outs to new levels, with ruling party officials even distributing taxis in several parts of the country over the last month.

As election day approaches the streets of the capital Caracas have been notably calm, although observers have warned that violence around voting itself should not be discounted.

"December 6 will bring a duel that has been forced into extreme conditions," political analyst Nicmer Evans told VICE News. "It seems like a final polarization duel, cultivated with violence from both sides."

Other observers say violence could be triggered by Maduro's "desperation" to avoid being blamed by other leading figures within the governing party if it does badly.

John Magdaleno, an expert on political data analysis, stressed that an opposition victory on Sunday would mean that the ruling party would have to face a genuine political counterweight for the first time since Chávez became president in 1999. This, he added, would almost certainly bring sanctions for Maduro and his inner circle.

"This is a critical conjunction for Chavismo," Magdaleno said. "The cost of losing the elections for Maduro and his cabinet is very high."

Related: Basic Medications and Breast Implants in Short Supply in Deepening Venezuela Crisis

Follow Alicia Hernandez on Twitter @por_puesto

Nicolas Maduro
Hugo Chávez
National Assembly
luis manuel diaz