Seven out of ten Venezuelans want their President Nicolás Maduro gone. The president’s goose looks well and truly cooked and it’s now merely a question of how and when it will be served. Even members of Maduro’s own United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) might prefer to offer him up as a scapegoat to an angry electorate rather than follow a lame leader into electoral oblivion or a popular uprising, whichever happens to come sooner.
Basic medical treatment, electricity and even food are not being supplied in Venezuela, a situation which more than explains Maduro’s unpopularity and suggests popular unrest in on the cards. For now, the opposition look likely attempt to maintain order while they pursue constitutional avenues of opposition. How long this can last is open to question.
The unified opposition coalition, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), are in the process of organising a recall election that could bring down Maduro. The almanis crowd reckon there’s a 20% probability of such a referendum getting him out of office by the end of the year.
The process by which such a referendum might be called is complicated. To cut through the boring details, it seems that MUD have enough popular support to get their referendum held and Maduro thrown out of office. The PSUV though have enough of a stranglehold over the offices of state to delay this referendum until after 10th January 2017, or even strike it down altogether.
Crucially, due to the constitutional small print, a referendum held after that date would lead to the PSUV Vice-President assuming power for the remainder of Maduro’s term while a referendum held before that date would trigger fresh elections. The PSUV may welcome the former option with a new leader better able to lead the party into elections in 2019.
An economic upswing isn’t going to save Maduro between now and any referendum. There isn’t going to be one. Low oil prices have devastated Venezuela’s sole significant source of export income and they don’t look like they’re going to rise significantly anytime soon. To make matters worse, state-owned oil major Petróleos de Venezuela isn’t paying its creditors and overseas contractors are withdrawing services. The price of oil needed to take the company back into profitability is presumably rising as a consequence.
The country’s main source of electricity, the Guri Dam Hydroelectric Plant, is running out of water and close to a partial shutdown – something which would have a knock-on effect across the whole of Venezuela’s industrial sector. After a prolonged drought, rain might help stem the crisis but blackouts due to low water levels have been a near constant threat since 2009. The government doesn’t have the time or the means to install the new energy infrastructure Venezuela needs.
Last year inflation reached 180% with food and drink prices over rising over 300%. The IMF, not known for their economic alarmism, are forecasting a rate of 720% for this year. The government lacks the fiscal credibility to bring such inflation expectations under control. Hyperinflation and a collapse in the currency beckons. The government’s strict regime of product rationing could well collapse with it.