This Sunday, December 8, Venezuelans go to the polls to vote in municipal elections that are the government’s first test at the ballot box of the eight months since Nicolás Maduro was elected president. Just over 330 mayoral offices will be at stake; of these, the opposition currently controls just seventy.

The Atlantic Council’s experts in the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center provide their latest policy analysis below. To schedule an interview or use quotes from this analysis, please contact us at

On the Current Dynamics in Venezuela:

“The election is being held at a time of increasing economic and political uncertainty. Maduro, who was recently granted emergency decree powers, has put in place controls to regulate the prices of electronics, toys, and clothes. This week, he put forward legislation to control the price of cars that includes a six- to twelve-year possible jail term for those who try to sell used cars at higher prices than new cars―a reality in Venezuela where used cars demand a high value due to the overall scarcity of automobiles. The economy is imploding. Fear of hyperinflation is rampant. The volatile economic situation is likely to lead to increasingly erratic and undemocratic actions from Maduro.”

Jason Marczak, Deputy Director, Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

On What to Watch for in Sunday’s Results:

“This election is more than a municipal election; the vote on Sunday is a national referendum on Maduro. It is the government’s first electoral test since he took office. Venezuelans head to the polls in a climate of fear that a vote for an opposition candidate may bear tremendous personal consequences. Maduro won by 1.5 percentage points in April; if the national pro-PSUV vote does not match those numbers, look for a serious rethink about the future of the current government.

But the crackdown on ‘speculation’ seems to have worked brilliantly for the government. All signs point to opposition abstention far exceeding chavismo abstention given the fear among opposition supporters in not trusting the electoral system. Polls continue to show opposition leader Henrique Capriles tied or beating Maduro in a head-to-head matchup. But the support for Capriles is not fully transferring to opposition candidates. Thus, this election maintained the feel of a local election rather than a national one.

While every municipality counts, the most important to keep an eye out for are the following five key elections: Caracas, Maracaibo, Valencia, Barquisimeto, and Maracay. A pro-government or opposition pick-up in any of these cities would reverberate beyond the municipal lines.”

Peter Schechter, Director, Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

On the Post-Election Possibilities:

“Venezuelans are damned either way: though unlikely based on polling, if the opposition wins the national vote on Sunday, the situation will be unstable. But a government victory will not bring stability either. Either way, Venezuela faces rocky shoals.

With elections out of the way, President Nicolás Maduro is likely to seize the moment to try to put in place new economic measures. Price controls are only a short-term measure but larger fixes, and especially a devaluation, are on the horizon. The opposition continues to be strong and will start to organize itself around a recall referendum in 2014. But with the fear that the day of reckoning at the ballot box now behind him—and with a still very tenuous hold on the presidency—Maduro will look to consolidate his power within the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) and silence his critics both among traditional Chávez supporters and with the opposition.”

Jason Marczak, Deputy Director, Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center

Related Experts: Jason Marczak and Peter Schechter