After a dialogue between the Venezuelan regime and opposition negotiators this week failed to reach agreement on the terms for holding presidential elections, the dictatorship unilaterally scheduled the balloting for April 22 in the hopes that a rigged vote will legitimize Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime. The international community should not fall for this obvious ploy.
Since his disputed election in 2013, Maduro increasingly has used violence and repression to maintain control over a country reeling from food shortages, rampant inflation, a collapsing health care system, widespread impunity, and corruption. The reviled Maduro regime has manipulated elections, jailed political opponents, banned political parties to neutralize the opposition, and destroyed what’s left of Venezuela’s democratic institutions.
The ruling Socialist Party has nominated Maduro to stand for reelection and has dictated who his opponents will be by barring key opposition parties and leaders from participating in the rigged contest. Even if everyone were permitted to participate, the government’s tight control over an illegal Constituent Assembly, the National Electoral Council, the media, and all the levers of power ensures that Maduro will win yet another fraudulent victory.
Over the summer, the Venezuelan government’s go-to voting firm admitted there was widespread manipulation in the Constituent Assembly “elections” in July, revealing that at least one million votes were fabricated in an election where the government claims eight million Venezuelans voted. No international observers or domestic authorities audited those results. In October, the ruling party once again swept regional elections, winning the governorship of 17 of 23 states despite having an approval rating of just 21%.
Latin American and Caribbean leaders organized under the so-called “Group of Lima” already rejected any elections organized unilaterally by the regime, indicating that these key regional governments will not recognize Maduro’s reelection. The Group has announced an emergency meeting to determine how to respond to this impending fraud. The US government also has denounced elections held without independent monitoring or verification. Sanctions targeting civilian and military officials are expected to continue, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the United States is considering sweeping sanctions against Venezuela’s government-controlled oil sector.
As the world rallies to denounce the Maduro dictatorship’s sham elections, it is inconceivable that genuine opposition parties would legitimize the process by fielding candidates. Regional leaders must advance beyond mere statements of solidarity with the Venezuelan people and take specific steps to support the legitimate opposition, sanction regime leaders, and encourage all Venezuelans — specifically the security forces — to rescue the country by supporting an urgent restoration of democracy.