Venezuelan opposition win National Assembly elections: Now is the time to defend the gains of the revolution

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UPDATED: 7 December 2015

As feared, Sunday 6 December saw the Venezuelan opposition sweep to victory in the National Assembly elections. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has now published the preliminary but irreversible election results, detailing that the MUD opposition coalition has won 99 seats compared to the PSUV’s 46 seats, securing the opposition a simple majority.

This landslide victory will allow the opposition to grant an amnesty to Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party imprisoned for his role in the violent street barricades last year,  block public spending on social programmes beyond the budget approved for 2016, block or push through international treaties and essentially block the PSUV government’s every move. 

With 22 seats still to be announced including the three representatives for Venezuela’s indigenous population, the key issue is now the scale of the majority. If the opposition win a two thirds majority they could seek a referendum to remove PSUV President Maduro, call an assembly to rewrite the constitution, block enabling laws for Maduro to take action similar to the successful border crime crack downs, appoint or remove Supreme Court judges and impeach the Vice Minister and other government ministers. 

Regardless of the majority, the elections represent a devastating blow for Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. The National Assembly elections saw a high turn-out of 74.25%, meaning that many who previously voted Chavista, switched to vote for the opposition. The death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, the prolonged economic war and the international campaign against Venezuela, coupled with the PSUV government’s reluctance to confront the private sector’s strangulation of the economy head on, have taken their toll.

Despite these huge challenges, over the last 17 years the Bolivarian government has  seized control of oil production, using it to slash poverty and infant mortality; provide free health care and education for all; build hundreds of thousands of units of social housing; cut unemployment by half and empower whole communities through popular participatory democracy networks. These unprecedented gains are now under real threat.

The advancement of the interests of the working class and oppressed through the electoral route has been blocked. The future will now be determined by the popular forces outside the traditional state, the comunas, the social movements, rallying together to defend their achievements. There is no doubt that an emboldened right-wing will now work to roll back these gains, after the election many gathered in the wealthy districts of Caracas, burning Chavista red shirts and sipping champagne. The resistance of Venezuela’s working class, who have faced down coups, oil lock outs, burning street barricades and destabilisation campaigns, will once again be put to the test.

More analysis will follow.

Sam McGill

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National Assembly elections threaten gains of the Bolivarian Revolution (29/11/15)

'The National Assembly is vital to guaranteeing the power of the people...our parliament is a new tool, it is important for guaranteeing the missions: health, housing ... if the right-wing wins, it will want to prevent the people from having access to all the revolution's achievements, and to block their participation, to make the revolution fail....That's what's at stake in these elections'  Blanca Eekhout, second vice president of National Assembly and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislator.

On 6 December, 19.5 million Venezuelans will again go to the ballot box, to battle it out for 167 seats in the National Assembly. The outcome will either mandate the PSUV and its allies to continue to carry forward and deepen the Bolivarian Revolution - or hand power to a vicious, counter-revolutionary and imperialist-backed ruling class. Sam McGill reports.

 A simple majority is needed to allow the ruling PSUV to approve the basic functions of the state; amend existing laws, approve national budgets, bilateral and international treaties, authorise the President to leave the country for more than five days and propose constitutional reforms. A two-thirds majority is needed to create new laws, convene a national referendum or revise the constitution. A two-thirds majority is also needed to petition for a constitutional court to consider the impeachment of the President whilst a three-quarters majority is needed to impeach ministers and the Vice-president.  Should the opposition win even a simple majority in the National Assembly elections, it could effectively block every initiative proposed by President Nicolas Maduro and PSUV, locking the country into a legislative stalemate and initiating constitutional actions against the government. In the last National Assembly elections in 2010, the PSUV and its allies won 99 seats with the opposition securing 64 seats. This year, 113 seats will be elected by constituencies, 51 seats by states with three seats reserved for indigenous candidates, elected by national vote.

The opposition, loosely grouped around the Roundtable of Democratic Unity or MUD coalition, is hedging its bets, refusing to commit to the pledge, signed by all the other parties, to recognise the election results. Conveniently, the opposition  will recognise the election results if it wins a majority. If it fails, it will boycott the results, cry fraud and call for violence in the streets, repeating past tactics.

However, the opposition is divided with little clear direction and consistent support. MUD coalition primaries were only held in 33 circuits in 11 of Venezuela's 23 states, The majority of MUD candidates were simply hand-picked. Furthermore candidates had to pay 150,000 bolivars to register - five times the national minimum wage. Fewer than 550,000 votes were cast and the MUD primaries were marked by empty polling stations. In contrast, for the Chavista primary elections, three million people voted. The campaign has created unprecedented unity: groups such as the Communist Party and Tupamaros, which in the past have run separately from the PSUV have joined forces with candidates running on a combined ticket. Ahead of the primaries,  1,162 pre-candidates were selected 13,600 grass-roots assemblies. 50% of the candidates were under 30 and 60% were women. Due to the high turn out the ballot had to be extended for an hour to allow everyone to vote. In the same 33 circuits that the opposition balloted, PSUV drew in 1,300,000 voters, doubling the turn out. The PSUV's participative approach to the primary elections clearly paid dividends and will hopefully have cemented the commitment of their supporters to the current election campaign.

However, victory for PSUV and its allies in the December elections is not guaranteed. Venezuela's economy continues to be reliant on extracting oil and importing goods. The halving of world oil prices slashed GDP by 10%, reducing the state budget. Steps have been taken to diversify exports and stimulate domestic production, non-oil exports for 2015 are estimated to reach $7 billion, a 75% increase on last year, but this is still below 2009 levels.  Sabotage and shortages always increase around elections, however Venezuela faces serious economic challenges. The official exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to the dollar, whilst in the informal parallel market one dollar can fetch 800 bolivars. No figures have been released for Venezuela's inflation this year, however Maduro estimates it at 80%, the International Monetary Fund at 159%. Despite this, there have been no spending cuts to the social missions and Venezuela's 2016 budget plans are based on oil prices remaining low – budgeting for $40 a barrel.

Meanwhile within Venezuela an economic war is being waged against the Bolivarian Revolution. Private companies control key imports, huge multinationals hoard food and domestic products, driving up the prices on the streets. In November, 2,500kgs of expired wheat flour was found hoarded at a Kraft Foods plant, paid for with subsidised dollars and left to rot whilst wheat flour products disappear from the shelves and prices soar. The private sector receives subsidised government dollars for imports and  pockets the cash through hoarding, speculation and fraud. This devalues Venezuela’s currency, wastes masses of state funds, and domestic production.

This goes hand in hand with the phenomenon of bachaqueros, small time vendors buying products from state subsidised supermarkets then reselling at ten times the price or smuggling to neighbouring Colombia for an even fatter profit. Despite four minimum wage rises this year, inflation continues to outstrip wages. More people are turning to bachaquerismo to make ends meet. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by confronting the private sector, controlling foreign trade, adjusting currency controls and developing domestic production.

In response the comunas, with funds from the Ministry of Communes, have created a network of communal markets, selling home-made deodorants, soap, shampoos, alternative arepa flour, coffee and other products commonly monopolized by bachaqueros. This kind of grass-roots productive initiative is essential in the absence of wider state intervention. Whilst there have been no new waves of nationalisations since 2012, the strong action taken by PSUV government against smuggling on the border with Colombia has been successful. With the border closure extended for 60 days, even the Colombian government has acknowledged the drop in crime and smuggling. Such measures are essential to winning the economic war and have required the political mobilisation of the comunas, with citizens volunteering to join brigades of popular price inspectors.

Despite the economic challenges, Venezuela has still been able to reduce extreme poverty to 4.9%. The housing mission is set to complete the construction of one million subsidised homes by the end of the year whilst Barrio Adentro, the health mission, has completed over 700 million free appointments. Such gains will be lost if the opposition claims victory at these elections or the next. December's elections are the 20th since the victory of Hugo Chavez in 1998, 2014 was the first year since 2006 without an election. Progress is hampered by the need to prioritise  election campaigns, diverting energy that could be focused on tackling the economic war. The fight for socialism in Venezuela is faced with many obstacles, the mobilisation of Venezuela's poor and oppressed, both at the ballot box and through the comunas is critical in securing a lasting victory.

Opposition smears Venezuelan government over killing of politician

On Wednesday 25 November, a regional opposition leader, Luis Manuel Diaz, was shot during an election campaign event, barely a week before the National Assembly elections. Inevitably, the national and international bourgeois press and the MUD opposition itself have been quick to blame the murder on 'armed PSUV gangs' and accuse the government of 'intimidation' of the opposition. However, Diaz was known to be a gang member and is reported to have been under investigation for homicide since 2010. His family had received death threats from a rival criminal gang known as El Picure. The authorities say their main suspect is linked to El Picure.