Venezuela – Political Crisis Approaching a Climax
The breakdown of the constitutional order has proceeded apace in Venezuela, as President Nicolás Maduro continues to exploit his control of the judiciary and the electoral apparatus to thwart efforts by the opposition majority in the National Assembly to use all legal means at its disposal to bring an early end to his presidency. Having effectively fended off a recall vote, Maduro has now set his sights on overhauling the 1999 constitution, a strategy that leaders of the opposition MUD have warned will result in the institutionalization of authoritarian rule.
On May 1, Maduro unveiled a new plan to bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly that would entail convening a Constitutional Assembly, which, once established, would assume all legislative powers, and no further elections (such as the presidential election that falls due in October 2018) would be held until the completion of the constitutional-reform process in two years. Elections to choose the members of the body were held on July 30, and a boycott by the opposition ensured that the new Assembly will be controlled by the president’s allies.
With no evident basis for compromise, it appears that the building political tensions will ultimately push the country down one of two paths: a mass popular uprising that forces Maduro from power or a formal suspension of the constitution and the imposition of some form of martial law. Either way, the military will likely determine who wins the power struggle, and there is a very real danger that the result will not be the resolution of the political crisis, but rather the initiation of a civil war.
It is highly doubtful that the military will side with Maduro’s opponents, who, if given the opportunity, would very likely conduct a purge of the top leadership of the armed forces, which is stacked with loyal supporters of Chávism. That said, the president is taking no chances. More than 100 members of the military have been arrested since April, presumably due to their reservations about the government’s hardline approach to dealing with Maduro’s opponents. Whatever the reason, the arrests suggest that the military’s loyalty to the president is not absolute. As such, under circumstance that lead to the imposition of martial law, it is quite possible that the generals might decide that conditions warrant Maduro’s replacement by a military regime.
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