Venezuela's Moment of Truth

What Will Happen if the Opposition Wins

Opposition supporters take part in a march against the government of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, October 18, 2014. Jorge Silva / Reuters

Minerva Ramos isn’t taking any chances in the run-up to this Sunday’s National Assembly elections in Venezuela. A 45-year-old housewife in the central city of Maracay, Ramos has been loading up on crackers, cans of sardines, and other non-perishables for her family of five. She fears the worst.

“Who knows what’s going to happen on Sunday?” she says, worry etched on her face. “I think the opposition will win the election, but what will the government do? Will they accept the results? Will they take to the streets? Will they steal the election? If they do, will the opposition take to the streets? It’s better to build up a reserve, even though there isn’t that much to buy.”

Venezuelans line up to buy vegetables at a street market in Caracas, December 2, 2015.
Venezuelans line up to buy vegetables at a street market in Caracas, December 2, 2015. Nacho Doce / Reuters
Polls suggest that the Democratic Unity (MUD, as it is known by its Spanish acronym) will win handily over President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Some opinion polls give MUD up to a 30-percentage-point lead, which would translate into a majority in the 167-seat National Assembly—a first since 1999, when the late President Hugo Chavez rewrote Venezuela’s constitution and created the unicameral body.

But Venezuelans like Ramos are hedging their bets. Even margins as big as MUD’s are no guarantee in the rough and tumble world of Venezuelan politics, where charges of fraud and ballot tampering are the norm rather than the exception and a dispute over a vote could quickly spiral into violence.

The National Electoral Council, which oversees elections and is theoretically autonomous, has repeatedly turned a blind eye to MUD protests about the government using state funds to finance the PSUV’s campaigns. Fears about its bias have grown since the council’s president, Tibisay Lucena, attended Chavez’s funeral wearing a PSUV armband.

Those misgivings have only increased in this election cycle. “This time around,” David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America told me, “the government is again abusing its control of the

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