This Sunday, Venezuelans go to the polls to elect all 167 members of the National Assembly. For the first time since the late President Hugo Chavez first won election in 1998, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela could suffer major losses.
According to Reuters, polls conducted in August and September show voters are more than twice as likely to back opposition candidates than those of the Socialist Party. “Barring some very large election fraud, the opposition will win by a wide margin,” Michael Henderson, an analyst with Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy, told The Guardian.
It is unclear, however, whether the elections will be free and fair. Organizations with years of monitoring elections, like the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, have been barred from observing Sunday’s vote. The Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, wrote a 19-page letter to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council detailing his concern that the playing field between the opposition and the government has not been equal during the election campaign.
In the letter, he was critical of the trial and jailing of opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced to an almost 14-year prison sentence earlier this year for his role inciting public demonstrations against the government in 2014.
On November 26, Venezuelan opposition leader Luis Diaz was shot dead at a rally in the town of Altagracia de Orituco in central Venezuela. According to the BBC, opposition leaders blamed militias supporting the governing party. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government has vigorously denied the allegations. The prosecutor general’s office subsequently arrested three men whom they said were linked to the killing.
The threat of violence is hanging over the election. According to The Associated Press, Maduro announced at a rally last weekend that he would “never surrender the revolution.”
“If the hard-core right-wingers win on Dec. 6, prepare for chaos, violence and protests that overwhelm this country,” he added.
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. As the price of oil has plummeted, the Venezuelan economy has gone into a tailspin. The International Monetary Fund projects the country’s GDP will contract by 10 percent this year. That is a worse performance than any other country in the world.