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.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.