From Stratfor

The United States may eventually regard it as illegitimate, but Venezuela’s ruling party managed to retain governorships in most of the country’s 23 states that held elections on Oct. 15. Although the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), made gains in some regions — such as Anzoategui, Nueva Esparta, Tachira, Merida and Zulia — the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) conclusively kept its majority hold over the country’s governorships. The opposition’s greatest hope for change now is for the U.S. government to deem the results as illegitimate and to implement heavier sanctions against the Venezuelan government or state energy firm Petroleos de Venezuela.

Opposition members are already claiming evidence of fraud, and some of them will use that as justification to lobby for sanctions. Some events that took place mere days before the elections could be held up as evidence: For example, the government suddenly relocated more than 200 voting centers across the country, allegedly because of a shortage of election materials. The government’s National Electoral Council also said that 60 percent of the country’s voters participated in the election, but a lack of reputable outside political observers makes it likely that the number will be contested. Alternatively, opposition leaders could use the fraud allegations to stir up protests, but it’s far from guaranteed that citizens will rally against the election results.

The wave of demonstrations in Venezuela earlier this year was instead triggered by dissatisfied citizens who were eventually backed by formal political parties from the country’s opposition. Although protests still periodically occur over common grievances — such as deficient public services and the high cost of living — the protests spurred by MUD lost steam after they failed to prevent the government from implementing the National Constituent Assembly on July 30. Because previous protests sponsored by the opposition were perceived as ineffective, citizens may be losing hope in MUD-sponsored protests altogether.

Meanwhile, the threat of a coup attempt from dissatisfied military units remains, but several factors mitigate the risk. The government continues to monitor political dissidents in the armed forces. Rising emigration from Venezuela removes citizens from the country who would otherwise protest as well. Domestic dissidence does not pose an immediate challenge to the government.

But Venezuela’s government remains economically unstable because of the country’s high inflation rates. Inflation may rise beyond 2000 percent in 2018, bolstered by the country’s expansionary monetary policy and sharp declines in government food imports. Further U.S. sanctions could worsen the economic situation and drive people to join protests the opposition could back for political gain. The Oct. 15 elections didn’t bring about the change the opposition party was desperate for, but they’re hoping that further sanctions from the United States just might.

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