If there was one surprise in the overwhelming electoral victory by the Venezuelan opposition in Sunday’s legislative elections, it was that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) accepted defeat so quickly and peacefully. But anyone who thinks that means the political temperature will cool down in Venezuela should think again.
Opposition leaders never doubted they had the votes to overtake the heirs to the late Hugo Chavez. The question was whether President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, and his backers would allow a free election to take place—and if they did permit the true vote count to be revealed, whether they would accept the results.
Their fears were grounded in reality. Maduro had issued repeated threats. If the opposition won, he warned in an interview, “Venezuela would enter one of the darkest stages of its political life. . . . We would not surrender the revolution.” On another occasion he vowed he would activate a “countercoup” to guarantee an electoral victory. He spoke of bringing huge numbers of Chavistas, as Chavez’s supporters are known, to the streets to defend the revolution, perhaps hoping to persuade undecided voters that the country’s disastrous situation would only become more turbulent if the ruling party lost.