Supporters of Andres Velasquez, the candidate of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) for the Bolivar state governor office, attend a gathering near the regional office of the National Electoral Council (CNE), in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, October 2017. 
William Urdaneta / REUTERS

In December 2015, Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Committee (known popularly as MUD), won a landslide victory, sweeping up two-thirds of the seats for the National Assembly, the country’s legislature. Since then, positive public opinion of President Nicolás Maduro, political heir to Hugo Chavéz, has rarely reached 30 percent. Poverty has increased, affecting more than 81 percent of the population today compared to 48 percent in 2014, according to a yearly survey of living conditions conducted by three leading Venezuelan universities. Malnutrition and starvation now afflict the most vulnerable, the government has defaulted on its international debts, and the country has entered a hyperinflationary spiral.

Under these conditions, you would expect the MUD to win the upcoming 2018 presidential elections easily as voters punish the incumbent government that has led Venezuela astray. Not so. Maduro’s party swept the country’s 2017 gubernatorial races, seizing 18 of 23 governorships, and is now favored to renew his term in office. How did it come to this? Why was Venezuela’s opposition unable to capitalize on the government’s massive unpopularity and its proven ability to win elections?

The tragedy of Venezuela’s opposition is that after struggling for years to forge a common strategy, it

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  • HAROLD TRINKUNAS is Deputy Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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