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By ESME FAIRBAIRN

CLAREMONT, Calif. – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s appeal last week for military backing to boycott December’s parliamentary election has created a consequential divide among the opposition party.

The planned Dec. 6 election will vote in a new National Assembly – currently the only branch of government that supports the opposition. The voting comes amid years of economic, social and political crisis, and the results could threaten the future of democracy and cause mass flight of citizens.

As hyperinflation surpasses 2,300%, the collapsed health care system is drowning in a rise of COVID-19 cases, providing the opposition with plentiful arguments for the removal of Nicolas Maduro.

As the scheduled election looms, the lives of Venezuelan citizens are inundated by the continual raging of a pandemic, military violence and economic collapse leading to widespread hunger. Now, the hope for change among citizens is tied to another factor – whether they even be able to exercise their right to vote.

“The corrupt Maduro regime is attempting to seize control of the National Assembly of Venezuela through a fraudulent election,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement earlier this month.

Guaido declared himself interim president last year, eight months after claiming he was legitimately voted in during the 2018 election. Today, both Guaido and Maduro, each with international backing, assert themselves as the legitimate president. Despite his internal and international support, Guaido has been unable to gain enough parliamentary backing to override the National Electoral Council, which appointed its own five-person board to favor Maduro.

But that could change with December’s vote. Only 13% of the electorate view Maduro favorably, according to a recent poll, suggesting a fair election might bring an overwhelming defeat.

“At a time when Venezuela is going through a dictatorship, the unity is essential,” Guaido said last week in an effort to gain international support. The military has not responded to Guaido’s plea for an election boycott. In fact, the only reaction it has received is from the opposition party itself.

Guaido has support for the boycott from 27 opposition parties, but some argue that a vote is what is needed to mobilize the country. Two-time presidential nominee Henrique Capriles does not support a boycott despite his loyalty to Guaido’s opposition party.

“We’re not going to leave the people without an option,” Capriles said in a recent webcast. He recommends the vote be postponed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, but views the popular vote as a strong, necessary tool. The unwavering Maduro, however, will likely block a boycott.

It seems as though Maduro may be the only one benefitting from the opposition’s recent divide. “The opposition has no common program to offer voters apart from the idea that Maduro must be ousted,” Sabine Kurtenbach, from the German Institute for Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, said in an interview.

(Written by Esme Fairbairn; Sept. 15, 2020)

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