Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, recently announced that if the opposition were to gain a majority in the National Assembly in elections this Sunday, “We would not give up the revolution and … we would govern with the people in a civil-military union.” To ensure that no one would accuse him of not being a true democrat, he clarified that “we would do this with the constitution in hand.” The president conveniently ignored the small detail that the constitution does not have any provision for a “civil-military” government, nor does it give the government the option of disregarding the outcome of an election. What Maduro did stress, however, was that if the revolution fails, “there will be a massacre”—a threat he has repeatedly made throughout the campaign. He usually follows such threats with reassurances that this violence will not ensue since it is impossible for opposition candidates to win enough votes for a legislative majority, which Maduro’s party has enjoyed for the past 17 years.
Maduro, in fact, frequently dismisses the very notion of an opposition victory as, in his cryptic words, a “negated and transmuted scenario.” His self-assurance is surprising considering that almost all opinion polls show an overwhelming public rejection of the government in general and the president in particular. So why is Maduro so confident? There are many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with “free and fair elections.” (Disclosure: I served as Venezuela’s minister of trade and industry and director of its Central Bank from 1989 to 1990.)