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On November 21 of last year, elections for mayors and governors were held in Venezuela. Product of an agreement reached in negotiations in Mexico earlier in the year, the government reinstated the MUD electoral credential and thus November’s was the first election with participation of the majority of the right-wing opposition since the 2018 regional elections. Voter turnout was very low, 42%, as the election was perceived as having a low political incidence, in light of the chavista practice of appointing parallel mayors and governors in the places where it loses, which effectively makes a mock of the act of voting.
Predictably, despite an overwhelming popular rejection, Chavismo won 20 out of 24 governorships and 205 out of 322 mayorships. The states of Cojedes, Nueva Esparta and Zulia were won by members of Acción Democrática, the old party of social democratic origin with which the government has favoured to occupy a minority of elected posts. Barinas, the state the Chavez family has ruled for two decades, was the scenario of an openly fraudulent maneuver by the government. After a week without announcing the election result, the election was annulled by the Maduro-controlled Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The opposition candidate and virtual winner in the election, Freddy Superlano, was disqualified from being a candidate and a new election was ordered.
Superlano, of the Voluntad Popular party led by Leopoldo López and of which Juan Guaidó is also a member, was involved in several corruption scandals as head of the National Assembly’s Comptroller’s Commission and in shady operations in the Colombian city of Cúcuta in 2019. Despite this, he obtained the majority of the votes benefiting from the general repudiation of the government.
For the second election, the government arbitrarily prevented the registration of opposition candidates linked to Superlano, such as his wife Aurora de Superlano and his campaign manager, Julio César Reyes. It also prevented the registration of the candidate of the Communist Party of Venezuela, which vindicates Chávez but criticizes Maduro.
Finally, the election was held for the second time on January 9. In spite of all the government maneuvers, including the mobilization of paramilitaries from other regions to Barinas, Chavismo suffered a humiliating defeat. Sergio Garrido, from Acción Democrática defeated Chavez’ son-in-law, Jorge Arreaza, by a wide margin of 55% to 41%.
Arreaza was forced to acknowledge his defeat, although he declared that he would “continue protecting” Barinas, a veiled threat to create a parallel governorship. Maduro has appointed “protectors” in the past in the municipalities and states where Chavismo has been defeated, redirecting most of their budget.
International allies of Chavismo have tried to present the defeat in Barinas as proof that there are democratic elections in Venezuela, but it is clear that the whole process was deeply undemocratic. From the PSUV primaries, where several candidates were excluded for not being aligned to the dominant currents of the Boli-bourgeoisie, to the exclusion of 15 candidacies of dissident Chavismo of the PCV and its allies, or the fact that most of the dissident organizations, both of right and left parties, have had their legality withdrawn after 2015 or have had their electoral credentials confiscated through judicial farces. All these anti-democratic elements made it possible for the government to win in the majority of cities and states in November, but the failure of Chavismo in January in Barinas shows the underlying fragility of a dictatorship repudiated by the majority of the working people.