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Does Venezuela's Election Matter?

Does Venezuela's Election Matter?

I’m just going to say it: This Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela doesn’t matter.


That’s not because President Nicolas Maduro is almost sure to win, despite trailing his main opponent in many polls. Nor is it because street protests have fizzled or because far fewer Venezuelans will vote than in the past. It’s not even because casting a ballot may seem like an afterthought in a place where inflation surpasses 13,000 percent and a gruesome humanitarian crisis has caused 2 million people to flee the country over the past two years.

The election doesn’t matter because elections aren’t really what keeps a fellow like Nicolas Maduro in power. What keeps him in power — as in other places where leaders rule over failing, deeply corrupted, or profoundly undemocratic systems — is the loyalty of economic and military elites.

As the world collapses around them, these powerful men and women must constantly calculate whether it’s safer to stick with a regime that is their main source of money, privilege, and protection, or to break with that regime and brave it on their own. In most cases, it’s more dangerous to leave than to stay. (Ask a Russian oligarch, for example, whether US sanctions make him any more likely to cross Vladimir Putin.)

But if the Venezuelan elections don’t matter, what happens afterwards most certainly does. The critical question is: Can Maduro hold together a collapsing country while keeping the carousel of money and privilege turning for the shrinking elite core of the Chavista regime? Is there a point at which the men with money or the men with guns turn against him? That, more than what happens in the streets or the urns, is what will determine Venezuela’s future.

Crazy counterintuitive consideration: Nicolas Maduro’s main opponent, a former governor named Henri Falcon, is a one-time Chavista loyalist who is currently leading Maduro in many polls. Maduro’s firm control over the electoral authorities enables him to skew things in his favor, but here’s an idea: What if Maduro lets Falcon win? Hear me out! If Maduro thinks Falcon’s wings can be clipped — and bear in mind that Chavista control over most key governing institutions would survive an opposition presidential victory — then it might be a winning strategy for Maduro to lose.

Falcon’s victory would make it almost impossible for the US, EU, or other Latin American countries to claim fraud and ratchet up sanctions; it would thoroughly discredit the main opposition, which boycotted the vote; and it would open the way for Maduro to negotiate a smooth, gradual, and safe exit from power. Crazy? Maybe. But I like to go into the weekend with a little crazy.

A decade ago, Bank of America established the Global Ambassadors Program with Vital Voices, and the results are phenomenal. We've provided 8,000 hours of training and mentoring, engaging 400 women from 85 countries and helping women around the world build their businesses.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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