IN Venezuela on Sunday – Monday afternoon for us here in the Philippines – a most remarkable national event occurred. The oil-rich country, which has struggled socially and economically for 16 years under the left-wing socialist government of first Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013) and then his hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro, conducted elections for its National Assembly.
To no one’s surprise, a coalition of opposition parties known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable – in Spanish, the party grouping has the odd acronym MUD – won a resounding victory over Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela. MUD took at least 99 seats in the 167-seat Assembly, against the socialists’ 46, with the final outcome of 22 others yet to be settled. Venezuelan voters, fed up with widespread shortages of basic goods, rampant crime, an antagonistic foreign policy that has turned Venezuela into a bit of a pariah, and persistently high unemployment and poverty rates in a country that is sitting atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves, made their feelings known loud and clear at the ballot box, as expected.
What was not expected, however, was that the Venezuelan election would turn out to be a model of democratic process. Under the Chavez-Maduro regime, which has until now adopted a “you’re either with us or against” style of leadership, opposition personalities have been harassed and even imprisoned on contrived charges. Demonstrators against the socialist government have been beaten and killed by police or the army, and previous elections blatantly rigged or otherwise rendered invalid by violence and controversy.
This election, in a surprising turn of events, was by all accounts conducted with a high level of fairness and efficiency, and once the overall outcome was confirmed by the country’s electoral authorities – a task that took mere hours, instead of days or weeks – President Maduro accepted defeat graciously. He told the nation in a televised address Sunday evening, “We have come with our morals and our ethics to recognize these adverse results, to accept them and to say to our Venezuela that the Constitution and democracy have triumphed.”
That there is a great lesson in all of this for our own ruling regime is obvious. Holding onto power by any means, fair or foul – perverting the laws, co-opting or bullying any opposition to silence them, and twisting the electoral process – is ultimately futile, because things will eventually reach a point where even underhanded means will no longer work, and those who would be dictators must submit to the judgment of the people if they have any hope of salvaging even a little of their authority. A nebulous, rhetorical concept like “socialist revolution” or “daang matuwid” offered as an ideology when all it really does is poorly disguise an absence of vision and an adulation of personality has a very short shelf life. When given a choice – which they must, sooner or later – the people will always make the decision that seems to them to be more practical: One based on whether or not they have food on the table, fairly rewarded work, and streets that are not clogged with immobile traffic, thugs and homeless families.
By accepting the inevitable with dignity, President Maduro may have just saved himself, and kept the chance to be relevant to his country and help shape its future. His is an example that we strongly suggest our own leaders take to heart and emulate.