That possibility of a new political landscape has generated excitement throughout the oil-rich nation of 30 million people, analysts say. But political leaders have also expressed a sense of alarm. They worry that the government’s electoral defeat could spark violence similar to that of last year, when protests against Maudro — and counter-protests by his supporters — resulted in street clashes that left 43 people dead.
Maduro has recently stoked those fears of upheaval. Last week he vowed to maintain his grip on power “by any means” necessary.
“If the hard-core right-wingers win on Dec. 6, prepare for chaos, violence and protests that overwhelm this country,” he said on Sunday. “They say they are for change. They are a false change. They are useless. We have built a million homes and they have not built a single one.”
In the months leading up to Sunday’s vote, Maduro has banned seven opposition politicians from running for office. The government has accused them of corruption or conspiring to overthrow the government. Dozens more are under arrest — held as “political prisoners,” according to MUD representatives.
They include Leopoldo López, the former mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district, who was sentenced to 14 years for inciting violence in last year’s protests. Franklin Nieves, one of the prosecutors in the case who recently fled to the United States, has called the López trial a “farce.”
The shooting death last week of regional opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz, blamed on militias supporting Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), has only heightened tensions. Maduro has denied any responsibility for violence.
If it emerges victorious on Sunday, the MUD opposition coalition has promised to force Maduro to loosen his grip on government institutions, including the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. Some among the loose-knit alliance of dozens of political parties have also promised a presidential recall campaign — an effort that could receive momentum if MUD obtains a two-thirds majority.
Maduro still commands wide support among Venezuela’s poor and rural population, backing that is buttressed by an electoral map that lends bigger weight to rural areas. Maduro’s PSUV party has been reaching out to the that section of the electorate by tapping into the deep admiration it still maintains for Chávez. Some votes on Sunday will cast ballots at centers called “Pure Blood of Chávez” and “Chávez’s Genius.”
But widespread frustration with ongoing shortages of food supplies — and dwindling oil revenues — and a murder rate in Caracas, the capital, that is among the highest in the world, has caused some of Maduro’s support to evaporate, even among previously ardent supporters. His popularity has slumped to 22 percent in recent weeks.
As Venezuela faces historic economic contraction—the International Monetary Fund says its GDP will contract 10 percent in 2015 and 6 percent in 2016 —
many “Chavistas” claim Maduro has ruined the his charismatic predecessor’s socialist project.
That frustration is evident in Caucaguita, a community on the hilltop outskirts of Caracas and a traditional socialist stronghold that has voted heavily for Chávez and Maduro in past elections.
“Chávez helped me a lot. I certainly can't deny it,” Marta Pacheco told The Associated Press. “But I have to take a stand now for my family’s future.”
With news services