Venezuela’s Historic Elections Means Little for Security

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Venezuela’s opposition coalition gained control of the National Assembly during the December 6 elections, an historic political victory that is unlikely to usher in new security strategies or radically alter the dynamics of organized crime in the country. 

Although votes are still being counted for some seats, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica – MUD) has won at least 99 of Venezuela’s 167 National Assembly seats. Meanwhile, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela – PSUV) has only captured 46 so far, Reuters reported.

Venezuela’s economic woes — which include hyper-inflation and a scarcity of basic goods — were a major concern for voters, according to National Public Radio. But the nation’s dire public security situation was also a major issue. 

The elections represent an historic loss for the PSUV, which has controlled the assembly for the last 16 years. President Nicolas Maduro accepted the results (see video below), but also blamed PSUV’s defeat on efforts by business interests and others to sabotage Venezuela’s economy. 

According to the BBC, MUD officials claim they have won 112 National Assembly seats, which if confirmed by election officials would give them a three-fifths supermajority. This would allow them to replace the Vice President, state ministers, judges and prosecutors and even open up the possibility of rewriting the constitution.

President Maduro accepts election results

InSight Crime Analysis

MUD’s success at the polls was helped by concerns over public security in Venezuela. However, there is no reason to believe the coalition can change current security strategies or the criminal dynamic that has made Venezuela a trafficking corridor for drugs and weapons, as well as one of the most homicidal nations on the planet

Venezuela has taken a heavy-handed approach towards crime that has often been linked to human rights abuses and even extrajudicial killings. While controversial with human rights groups, these initiatives have largely played well with the public. If MUD were to try and introduce programs with a different approach, the PSUV could easily paint them as being soft on crime — a risk MUD is unlikely to take.

Defunding current hardline programs, like Operation Liberation and Protection of the People, would produce similar results. And even if MUD were willing and able to pass new crime initiatives, the PSUV could hinder their implementation through the many key government positions the party still holds. 

Gaining a supermajority would give MUD the option of replacing key security ministers as well as members of the judiciary. However, this is a long process, according to the BBC, and one that may require huge expenditures of political capital. 

Perhaps the biggest reason why MUD is unlikely to change Venezuela’s security approach is the coalition itself. With the rest of the government tightly controlled by the PSUV, MUD will need to be strongly united to effect any change at all. However, the diverse coalition represents an array of issues and agendas and has historically been prone to in-fighting. 

The end result is likely to be a legislature that is unwilling to pass any PSUV-backed security initiatives, but is unable or unwilling to push forward any of its own. 

The one area were MUD’s victory might have an immediate difference is in Venezuela’s approach to border security. During 2015, President Maduro used a series of emergency decrees to institute martial law along certain areas of Venezuela’s border with Colombia. A MUD-controlled legislature would most likely not renew any effort by Maduro to rule by decree, which was granted by the current legislature and ends December 31.

The new legislature may also play a key role in efforts to prosecute elected officials for drug trafficking crimes. The legislature has to strip officials of immunity before they can face charges, and the supermajority the opposition controls would open that possibility.

This could be critical moving forward. Current Legislature President Diosdado Cabello, for instance, has come under scrutiny for his alleged connections to drug trafficking networks. 

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