Symposium: What does political science teach us about opposition boycotts in Venezuela?
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
By Amy Erica Smith
Venezuela’s December 6 parliamentary elections were a dispiriting milestone for many of us. By the end of that day, authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro had succeeded in consolidating control over the last remaining branch of government, the National Assembly. In the process, Juan Guaidó, whom many international entities had recognized as the legitimate president of the country, lost the claim to constitutional legitimacy that came from his presidency of the Assembly.
All of this comes in the midst of a profound economic collapse. Recent estimates put the contraction in GDP at 49% by 2018, and 75% to date—a collapse that has accelerated with international sanctions intended to encourage regime change. Meanwhile, food insecurity has reached astoundingly high levels.
What political forces have contributed to the economic and political collapse?
One of the notable features of the December 6 election was that opposition parties largely boycotted it, refusing to run candidates. This is not the first time since the beginning of the increasingly authoritarian Chavista regime that the opposition has refused to participate in an election. But the strategy is controversial, arousing vehement critiques in some quarters.
Today marks the start of a three-day Mischiefs of Faction symposium analyzing opposition boycotts from the perspective of political science research. We asked a series of authors the same questions: Do opposition boycotts work? If so, under what circumstances? And what does this tell us about the prospects for the Venezuelan opposition going forward?
To start us off Wednesday, Juan Negri explains that opposition boycotts work best when the opposition regime is weak and fragmented--conditions missing in Venezuela.
On Thursday, Maryhen Jimenez and Antulio Rosales argue that neither boycotting or participating in elections are effective opposition mobilization strategies in authoritarian regimes. Instead, what matters is the larger plan for opposition mobilization outside of elections. In Venezuela, the opposition failed to make its boycott work.
Finally, in an insightful piece on Friday, Laura Gamboa maintains that Venezuela's opposition politicians need support from the international community to overcome barriers to negotiation--and that international groups have failed.