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Nicolas Maduro’s “New Order” in Venezuela

Time is the implacable enemy of power and this regime has passed its expiration date. “Twenty years is nothing” is only a good tango lyric by Gardel

General Suharto was designated the interim president of Indonesia in March 1967.  In March 1968, the Indonesian parliament confirmed him in his position for five years. That was the beginning of the “New Order” that ruled that Southeast Asian nation right up until 1998.

In 1971, there were legislative elections, the first since the coup that had brought Suharto to power. His strategy consisted in forming and controlling an institution, known as “Golkar”, that represented certain interests. He later transformed this movement into an electoral and parliamentary instrument. In addition to the productive sectors, the group included the state bureaucracy and the army, the latter in a clearly hierarchical position.

The “New Order” was defined as a civic and military regime.

Golkar competed with another nine parties, making use of an ample menu of manipulation, intimidation, division, cooptation and inhibition of opponents. The public employees were obligated to vote for Golkar, and the regional authorities were given quotas of official votes to fulfill. All of this in order to exercise control over the opposition.

Golkar won in 1971 with 63% of the votes, followed by the Islamic Party UN with 18%, and the Nationalist Party with 7%. With this, Suharto obtained a solid parliamentary majority and the hegemonic electoral machine was complete.  The same scheme was repeated five times with nearly identical results in the elections of 1977, 1982, 1987, and 1997. That’s how nearly three decades of simulated democratic competition went by, with the opposition parties functioning as a legitimizing mechanism.

Today, Suharto’s playbook seems to have reached the hands of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. If we look back and recall the overwhelming defeat of Chavisimo, the political system established by Hugo Chavez, in the legislative elections of December 2015, we see that the avalanche of opposition votes left it with an irreversible deficit of legitimacy. From then on, the regime has tried diverse formulas of validation, from the Cuban one-party model with the Constituent National Assembly in August 2017, up to the grotesque fraud in the style of Stroessner in the May 2018 election.

None of them has yielded good results. A fundamental problem of Chavismo is that of the institutional design. A one-party regime is unthinkable within the framework of the dialogue with international entities, especially the Europeans, which often give oxygen to the Nicolas Maduro regime. The repetition of a shameless fraud, in turn, is impractical; the vast majority of the democracies would reject it as they did in 2018.

Maybe for these reasons, Nicolas Maduro’s regime seems to have dedicated the month of June to advancing in the outline of a new electoral ambush. The sequence of events is notable.  On the 12th, the TSJ [Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, Venezuela’s Supreme Court], a body that is in itself illegitimate, named nine rectors to the National Electoral Council, ignoring the constitutional disposition that holds this to be the prerogative of the National Assembly. The Supreme Court had already incurred in a similar violation in 2003, 2005, and 2014.

On the 15th, the TSJ arbitrarily intervened in the Democratic Action Party (AD): naming a new Secretary General without consulting with the party’s own militants. On June 16th, it proceeded in a similar way with the Justice First Party (PJ), revoking its authority and naming a “General Coordinator”. With that, they weakened the autonomy of the political parties.

Reading the tea leaves was unnecessary: everything indicated the imminence of a call for parliamentary elections. And so it was – the month ended with the National Electoral Council’s call for parliamentary elections to be held on December 6th.  But there was a crucial addition: the number of deputies to be elected would go from the current 167 to 277, an increase of 66% that has no technical nor legal justification.

The increase in seats will be accompanied by a different distribution, and therein lies the trap. Take a look: in the 2015 parliamentary election, 113 (67.6%) of the deputies were elected by individual vote, and the other 51 (30.53%) by proportional representation via closed lists made up by the parties. The other three were representatives of the indigenous peoples. In 2020, in contrast, there will be 133 seats by nominal vote as opposed to 144 by proportional representation.

That is, the deputies elected by individual vote will be reduced from 67.6% to 48% of the total, while those elected from party lists will increase from 31% to 52% of the total. Since the regime has abducted the AD and the PJ, the two parties with the greatest parliamentary representation, they’ll now seek collaboration to make up lists of candidates from among their allies. That’s the way they plan to fulfill their objective of finally coopting the National Assembly. A transparent logic: you can vote, but you can’t choose.

In setting up this the new fraud, Chavismo’s deficits in design also influences a central job of politics: administration over time. No autocracy can sustain itself only through force. Its power must also rest on a certain consensus for its reproduction over time For that, norms are required with which elite leaders are recycled and the political activities are renewed.

Suharto’s Indonesia, as we saw, functions as an analogy. Nicolas Maduro is pursuing his permanence in power with a similar electoral mimicry, the fantasy of his own “New Order”. However, it’s too late for a job that’s such an uphill climb. The dictatorship revealed its cheating game with the arbitrary and illegal interventions of the TSJ, that have already been rejected by the democratic world.

Time is the implacable enemy of power, and this regime has passed its expiration date.  “Twenty years is nothing” was only a good line in Gardel’s tango. In politics, it’s an eternity.

Originally published in “Infobae”

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