With Chávez Absent, Things Get Orwellian in Venezuela

Toro said that sympathy for Chávez and recent electoral triumphs by chavistas in other elections across the country indicate that a chavista candidate, such as Maduro himself, would be very likely to win presidential elections if they took place sooner, rather than later. Therefore, the government has an incentive to call for elections quickly.

"I don't understand the realpolitik of what they're doing," Toro said of recent decisions by Venezuelan officials to delay new elections, and place Maduro as acting president. "The one explanation I imagine is that they're scared that Chávez somehow comes back, and boils them alive for having moved to take over power before he was properly dead."

George Ciccariello-Maher, a political science professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, believes that the decision by Venezuelan officials to keep Chávez in power, despite his frail state of health, could suggest that members of Chávez's inner circle know something about the situation that the rest of the world doesn't.

"If Maduro were to run in a snap election now he would win," said Ciccariello-Maher, who is about to publish a book on the rise of socialism in Venezuela. "The fact that they're not making that move, [calling for elections]… suggests at least that Chávez is potentially in a situation to recover."

Ciccariello-Maher said that the current situation, in which Maduro is ruling in the name of Chávez, could last for a couple of months at most.

"If they get to something like four, five, six months, the chorus from the opposition is just going to become more and more powerful that it's time to resolve this question of succession once and for all," Ciccariello-Maher said. "If they waited a year or two years they would be losing sympathy, and if it were clear that chavez were not governing the whole time, they would be losing the upper hand that they have now."

Venezuela currently faces serious economic problems, including food shortages and the very real prospect of currency devaluation, as the government attempts to plug a massive deficit that is worth 18 percent of the country's GDP. U.S. dollars are currently trading in Venezuela's black market at four times more than the official rate, and dollars sold at the official rate are extremely limited. This means that imports can become scandalously expensive for industrialists and retail companies that do not have the right connections to get dollars at the official rate.

Ciccariello-Maher and Toro agree that these are issues that tarnish Chávez's caretaker government. If months pass by before the government calls for new elections, and these problems continue, they could affect Maduro's popularity and benefit the opposition.

But there could be another reason why the Venezuelan government is staying away from new elections, Toro said.

"The government knows this kind of thing drives the opposition crazy… part of the attraction from their point of view might be simply driving us up a wall," added Toro, who openly identifies with the Venezuelan opposition.

Since it started to become evident that Chávez was not going to be sworn in on January 10, Venezuela's opposition has pushed for new elections, or for the creation of an independent medical committee to provide more information on Chávez's health and determine whether he is fit to rule the country.

Last week, its leaders vehemently rejected the National Assembly's decision to give Chávez an unlimited leave of absence and on Twitter, some radical sympathizers of the opposition called for a "national strike" in order to protest the lack of information on Chávez's health and the National Assembly's decision to give him an unlimited leave of absence.

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