Most Venezuelans do not want to live in a socialist/authoritarian state. Most aspire to live productive and independent lives and escape poverty through work and property ownership. They hope to remain free citizens in a genuine democracy rather than red-shirted comrades in a communist clone.
On September 26, Venezuelans will vote for the 165 members of the national assembly that approves future laws, and, at least in theory, reflects the consent of the governed.
Hugo Chavez’s poll numbers continue to sink. His 21st century brand of socialism suffers the same defects as socialism of the 20th century—mismanagement, corruption, lack of productivity, and a loss of economic freedom. Neglect of basic services and infrastructure, especially electrical, is significant. While the inflation and murder rate in Venezuela are among the highest in the Americas, overall performance of the Venezuelan economy continues to slide. Oil and aid giveaways and support for clients, including terrorists, has begun to boomerang.
In most democratic nations, Chavez and his socialist party [PSUV] would be headed for the exit. But Chavez is still banking on a win. Although his regime is a hybrid of Tammany Hall and Orwell’s Big Brother and he joins ranks with other demagogic Latin leaders like Juan Peron and Fidel Castro, Chavez still employs an ever-shrinking electoral fig leaf to justify his reign.
In Venezuela, governing is based on the whim of the Maximum Leader coupled with hardball politics and a tilted playing field. The Venezuelan state has become a vast patronage machine. Nationalizations have gobbled up the private sector. Government voters are recipients of Chavez’s largess. The national electoral council is in Chavez’s hip pocket. He has increasingly restricted media freedoms and uses unregulated media access to sell himself and his candidates. Voters face a wide range of obstacles that include, after a 2009 electoral law, electoral districts heavily favorable to Chavez’s party. There will be no meaningful international observers and limited domestic observation. The potential for significant fraud cannot be discarded.
Chávez wants to pulverize the opposition that refuses to give up on a democratic Venezuela. He aims to concentrate even greater executive power freed from any legislative check. If he fails to get what he wants in terms of deputies on the 26th, he’ll side-step the legislature for other populist mechanisms.
The legislative elections will test the capacity of the democratic opposition to unite, mobilize votes, and work together to build an alternative to Chavismo. Opposition candidates will win a substantial number of seats and create a platform for 2012.
The eyes of the world will be upon Venezuela this weekend. Friends of democracy around the world will be rooting for the opposition and need to be ready to offer attention and support in what is the opening shot of the campaign to dump Chávez in 2012 and transition Venezuela back to democracy.