People's Stories Democracy

View previous stories

Venezuela sinking into economic and social crisis
by Crisis Group, Mercycorps, AFP, agencies
21 May 2018 (AFP)
President Nicolas Maduro has been declared the winner of Venezuela''s election in a poll rejected as invalid by his rivals, who called for fresh elections to be held later this year.
With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Maduro had 67.7 percent of the vote, with his main rival Henri Falcon taking 21.2 percent, the National Election Council announced. Polls had put Maduro neck-and-neck with Falcon.
Venezuelans, suffering under a debilitating economic crisis, went to the polls Sunday in an election boycotted by the main opposition parties.
An economic crisis has led to hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, rising crime and broken water, power and transportation networks that has sparked widespread social unrest and left Maduro with a 75 percent disapproval rating. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the South American country in a mass exodus in recent years.
Mr Maduro says that Venezuela is the victim of an "economic war" waged by the conservative opposition and outside powers such as the United States aimed at toppling him.
Hundreds of Venezuelans took to the streets in several Latin American capitals, including Bogota, Lima and Buenos Aires - as well as in Madrid - to denounce the vote. The biggest protest was in Chile''s capital Santiago, where more than 1,000 demonstrated against the election. Chile granted 73,000 visas to Venezuelans fleeing the country last year.
Presidential elections are traditionally held in December, but they were moved up this year by the country''s all-powerful and pro-government Constituent Assembly, catching a divided opposition off-guard.
Maduro is accused by his critics of undermining democracy, usurping the power of the opposition-dominated legislature by replacing it with a Constituent Assembly and cracking down hard on the opposition. Protests in 2017, still fresh in the collective memory, left around 125 people dead.
May 2018
President Maduro’s likely Re-election in Breadline Venezuela
As tens of thousands of Venezuelans continue to stream into neighbouring countries, President Nicolás Maduro appears set to win elections on 20 May. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for the Andes Phil Gunson looks ahead to the vote and its aftermath and explains why the crisis is likely to deepen.
What is at stake in the 20 May elections?
These elections are for the presidency of the republic and for regional legislatures in each of Venezuela’s 23 states. The president is both head of state and of government, as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
President Nicolás Maduro was elected in 2013 to complete the six-year term of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, after Chávez died of cancer. That term ends in early 2019, but the government brought forward the elections – which would normally be held in December – to take advantage of the Venezuelan opposition’s weaknesses and divisions. In doing so, it derailed negotiations, primarily over election conditions, which were underway in the Dominican Republic in the presence of international facilitators.
Who are the main candidates and what are their chances?
President Maduro’s main challenger is former state Governor Henri Falcón, leader of the centre-left Avanzada Progresista party. Falcón, who was once an ally of Chávez, has broken with the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition alliance, which has called for a boycott. A dark horse candidate is Javier Bertucci, an evangelical pastor with no background in politics.
Early opinion polls suggested Falcón was leading the races, though Bertucci has lately been eating into his support. President Maduro himself enjoys the approval of around a quarter of the electorate.
Those polls are unlikely to provide an accurate projection of election results, however, particularly if opposition voters heed their leaders’ call to shun the vote. In reality, Falcón’s chances of winning are remote. Maduro’s control of key institutions, including the electoral authority (CNE), the courts and the army, as well as the massive disparity in campaign finance, make him virtually unassailable – this despite the fact that the economy has collapsed since he took office. Venezuelans are fleeing the country by the hundreds of thousands, largely because of hyperinflation (currently running at around 13,000 per cent a year) and critical scarcities of food, medicine and cash...
Millions of genuine votes are predicted to be cast for Maduro. What is the explanation?
President Maduro and chavismo retain a genuine base of support, thanks largely to the lingering effect of Hugo Chávez’s charisma and the welfare programs that he promoted. That said, polls also suggest that most of the voters who do not support him would like to see Maduro leave office immediately.
Many Venezuelans appear likely to vote for the incumbent out of fear or necessity. These include government employees fearful of losing their jobs as well as the millions of recipients of subsidised food handouts and other benefits. The government demands that voters carry a “homeland card” (carnet de la patria) to be scanned at special booths outside polling stations run by the ruling party. The card’s QR code contains personal details about the benefits each individual receives, and the threat – implicit or explicit– is that these benefits will be cut if voters do not do as the government wants.
According to polling evidence, almost half of Venezuelan homes receive food rations regularly, and close to six out of ten voters do not believe their vote is secret.
What has been the reaction in the region and internationally?
The Venezuelan government has never been more isolated. More than a dozen of its hemispheric neighbours, known as the Lima Group, have said they will not recognise the result of the election, and Washington has taken a similar position. The European Union (EU) and many of its allies have said the election will not be free, fair or transparent and the EU has declined to send observers, as has the United Nations. The U.S., Canada, the EU and others have adopted sanctions, largely targeted against leading government figures, and called for a restoration of democracy.
For their part, Maduro’s allies – who include Russia, China and Cuba, as well as some smaller Latin American and Caribbean nations – have objected to what they see as interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
If Maduro is re-elected, what hope is there for resolving the crisis?
Maduro has no plan to resolve what has become a profound economic and social crisis; in fact, he has promised to double down on the very policies that brought it about. The government, for example, has “temporarily” taken over the country’s biggest private bank, Banesco, and forced the only remaining manufacturer of car batteries, a private company, to slash its prices. Maduro proposes to resolve problems like the critical shortage of paper money and U.S. financial sanctions by replacing the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, with “cryptocurrency” – dubbed the Petro – for an ever-growing list of transactions.
The crisis is so severe that it could provoke either friction within the ruling civilian-military alliance or social breakdown on a much greater scale. Oil exports, on which the country is critically dependent, are falling fast, thanks to declining production and the fear that creditors may seize tankers on the high seas. Hyperinflationary crises are inherently unstable. It seems likely that the longer the government is unable or unwilling to tackle Venezuela’s crisis, the more likely it is to provoke further instability, potentially even among civilian or military elites. Dozens of arrests of military officers in recent months point to discontent in the armed forces, although so far no leader – civilian or military – has emerged within chavismo with the strength to mount a serious challenge to Maduro.
Washington refuses to rule out military intervention. Such an intervention for now appears unlikely, but would almost certainly create enormous instability. The vast majority of regional governments flatly oppose such an idea and even floating it plays into the hands of Maduro, who argues that his opponents are proxies of Western imperialism. Another potential source of conflict is the deteriorating relationship with Colombia, which is in the throes of its own presidential election. The complex web of competing armed groups on the two countries’ common border is a possible flashpoint.
Crisis Group believes that a stable and workable solution can only come through negotiations, but the breakdown of talks in Santo Domingo earlier this year means that any resumption would have to be preceded by a commitment from the government to act in good faith and accept a broad agenda of political, institutional and economic reform. Convincing the government to embrace talks will most likely require continued international pressure, combined with clear signals as to the steps that would have to be taken for sanctions to be lifted.
Venezuela: Humanitarian Emergency. (Crisis Group)
Venezuela is sinking ever deeper into a profound economic and social crisis. Annual inflation could reach upwards of 300,000 percent by year’s end. Despite a government plan to strike three zeroes off Venezuela’s currency, cash is almost impossible to obtain, hitting the poor, many of whom have no other means of payment, particularly hard. Over eight million Venezuelans cannot afford three meals a day. Protein has disappeared from many of their diets. Essential medicines are lacking: for some such medicines only 20 percent of the quantity needed is available; others have entirely run out. Many of those suffering chronic diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS or haemophilia are dying for lack of treatment.
Most public hospitals cannot guarantee running water or working lifts, let alone equipment such as X-ray machines. Patients are forced to provide their own medical and surgical supplies. Many operations are cancelled because blood banks lack reagents to ensure transfusions are safe. Long-controlled diseases like measles and diphtheria are making a comeback. Parts of the country are in the throes of a malaria epidemic. Yet the Venezuelan government denies the humanitarian crisis exists, portraying any coverage of the crisis as misinformation designed to undermine its rule. It also rejects much humanitarian aid, arguing that such efforts are part of a foreign plot to oust it.
As many as 1.5 million people have left the country in the past eighteen months, and a similar number may leave in the course of this year. The exodus has placed public services in neighbouring countries under strain, with governments in countries as far away as Chile having to adapt immigration regulations accordingly.
Temporary shelters and soup kitchens catering to Venezuelans have been set up in Colombian and Brazilian border towns. UN agencies and the EU are now beginning to provide international aid in those locations.
* International Crisis Group, Watch List May 2018 - Venezuela (pp10):

Visit the related web page

Malaysia on the verge of new ''golden era'' with toppling of BN: Anwar Ibrahim
by AFP, The Straits Times, news agencies
May 16, 2018 (AFP/Straits Times)
Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim said his country was on the verge of a new "golden era", with the toppling of a corruption tainted regime offering hope to people "clamouring for freedom" everywhere.
But Mr Anwar, a leading member of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) that teamed with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to oust premier Najib Razak, also cautioned that "one election does not a democracy make".
"I always believed in the wisdom of the people and that if we fought hard enough we would eventually prevail," he told Fairfax Media in an interview, adding that a new "golden era" was afoot.
"At a time when democracy is in retreat around the world, I hope that the people of Malaysia have given some hope to people around the world clamouring for their own freedom."
Mr Anwar was heir-apparent to the premiership until Dr Mahathir sacked him in 1998 and he was subsequently jailed for trumped up sodomy and abuse of power charges.
Now 70, he was imprisoned again in 2015 during Mr Najib''s rule - after making historic gains as the head of the opposition at the 2013 elections.
But in a dramatic turnaround, his party joined forces with his former nemesis to inflict a shock defeat last week on the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, ending its six-decade stranglehold on power.
Dr Mahathir told news agencies he would be in power for one to two years, before an expected handover to Mr Anwar.
Mr Anwar said that after working with Dr Mahathir for many years he understands "that he cares deeply about Malaysia and the people of Malaysia".
"A new partnership was essential to overcome the deeply entrenched, corrupt system that was presiding over Malaysia," he said, referring to the Najib government. "Our litmus test has always been supporting the reform agenda.
"So long as there is sincere commitment to these principles, we have always welcomed new supporters. The animosity which preoccupies some observers is not an issue for me."
Even while in jail, Mr Anwar said he had detected growing outrage among Malaysians against Mr Najib, who has been accused of involvement in plundering hundreds of millions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB. Mr Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Anwar said the hardest thing about being in jail was its impact on his family. "My children were quite young during the earlier period of incarceration and that was a difficult period for them and (his wife, Wan) Azizah," he said.
"This time in jail it is my children''s children who I missed deeply. But as a family, we were in concert that we cannot expect the people of Malaysia to take a risk for their freedom if we ourselves were not prepared to take those same risks.
"As the days and weeks wore on I never lost hope. In fact, even from within the prison cell I sensed that the outrage against a corrupt regime was increasing by the day."
10 May 2018
An opposition alliance led by Malaysia''s former ruler Mahathir Mohamad has won a majority in parliament - a shock victory that ends the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition''s 60-year grip on power.
The opposition won 113 seats - one more than required for simple majority - and the BN has 79 in the 222-member parliament, according to official results announced on Thursday.
The election race was one of the most closely contested in Malaysia''s history, with 92-year-old Mahathir coming out of retirement to take on his former protege, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been embroiled in a massive corruption scandal.
As the Pakatan Harapan or Alliance of Hope''s win became clear, supporters took to the streets of Malaysia''s biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, to celebrate, with many waving flags of the opposition on the streets. The mood in the city turned to "euphoria" as "news began to sink in about what was happening".
Mr Najib, who has ruled the Southeast Asian country for nearly 10 years, said he accepted the "verdict of the people".
The corruption allegations have dogged Najib for years and appeared to have soured Malaysian voters. The US Justice Department says $4.5bn was looted from the 1MBD investment fund by associates of the prime minister between 2009 and 2014, including $700m that landed in Najib''s bank account. He denies any wrongdoing.
Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert at John Cabot University in Rome, attributed the opposition''s surprising gains to Mahathir.
"The person who has made this happen is Mahathir. He has been a significant game changer. He made people feel that a transition of power is possible," she said.
"This is a repudiation of Najib''s government from all walks of life from the very rural northern states to the more industrial southern coast," she said. The opposition was also sweeping state elections, including Johor state where the dominant Malay party in the Barisan Nasional was founded.
"Few Malaysians thought they would live to see this day," Malaysia Kini, a Malaysian news website, said in an editorial. "This is the first time the country has witnessed a change of government since independence from the British in 1957."
BN''s rout was made possible by a "Malaysian tsunami", in which all major ethnic groups turned out to vote against the ruling coalition, it said.
"Nothing less than a historic political earthquake is under way in Malaysia right now," said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch''s Asia advocacy director.
Mr Mahathir turned against Najib in the wake of the financial scandal at 1MDB, calling his role in Najib''s rise "the biggest mistake of my life".
The former ruler then teamed up with an alliance of parties that opposed him when he was in power. That included opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, his former deputy. The Pakatan Harapan''s win was a stunning triumph that almost no one had predicted.


View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook