After 17 years of Chavismo — rule by former President Hugo Chavez and his supporters — Venezuela turned staunchly against the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) in parliamentary elections Dec. 6, giving the opposition a two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly. Now with 112 seats, opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), can unilaterally call a referendum, remove Cabinet ministers, overturn presidential vetoes and even revise and abrogate international treaties.
However, to effectively take advantage of their supermajority in 2016, MUD leaders will have to negotiate both with key individuals and factions and with their own party members. Otherwise, the party risks months of political conflict and legislative gridlock that could increase the threat of widespread civil strife in the country. Moreover, MUD will have to defend itself against the ruling party, which is trying to neutralize it through the Supreme Court.
Currently, there are roughly 21 parties within MUD. Younger leaders head up a faction of members from the most recently formed parties to join the coalition; pro-democracy and human rights activists make up another powerful faction; and finally the older leaders who once belonged to the mainstream parties represent the most experienced political faction of MUD.
MUD leaders have two different ideas on how to move forward. One option is to dismantle the legal protections built up over 17 years to guard the presidency and to eventually call a referendum against Maduro. The other is to negotiate legislative solutions to the country's political and economic problems. Regardless of which option opposition leaders choose, they will have to negotiate with the most powerful components of Venezuelan politics, including the security elements, dissident chavistas and the multiple and unstructured political patronage networks known colloquially as colectivos.
Ultimately, MUD's biggest challenge will be working together to solidify legislative priorities and to determine the best steps forward. In the short term, government officials are not likely to negotiate with MUD. But as civil strife intensifies, leaders and supporters of the ruling party will become more willing to work with MUD leaders. In the meantime, Venezuela’s economic problems will only worsen in 2016.