In Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast, we said that the United States would continue to pressure the increasingly authoritarian government in Venezuela to hold competitive elections, and that Caracas would attempt to maintain a grip on power for as long as possible. The latest announcement from the Venezuelan government — that it intends to hold a "mega-election" — tracks with that assessment. Caracas is charging forward against the warnings of the international community, possibly in the hopes of strengthening its position in negotiations with the United States.
Venezuela's government is making a new attempt to cement its hold on the country's politics, which may draw the ire of the United States. On Feb. 21, President Nicolas Maduro asked the country's National Constituent Assembly — a body that acts as a ruling junta — to declare simultaneous elections on April 22 for the presidency, legislature, regional councils and municipal councils. Such action is illegal according to Venezuelan law, since the legislature has three years left in its tenure. But according to the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the National Constituent Assembly has the power to declare changes to the electoral calendar by issuing orders to the country's electoral authorities.
The decision is likely motivated by the Venezuelan government's desire to keep a firm grip on the country in the face of massive political pressure both domestically and from external forces. Protests over rampant inflation and poverty have raged in Venezuela for months, while many in the international community, including the United States, have voiced concern over the country's humanitarian situation. Maduro's administration has already taken several measures to limit the pool of potential opponents. In January, for example, it forced all political opposition parties to run individually rather than as a bloc, limiting the ability for any single party to gain enough votes to defeat Maduro. Electoral authorities have also barred some potential candidates, such as former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, from running in the April 22 presidential election.
Maduro and his political allies are likely aiming to fully expunge the opposition from the government, which they believe could give them a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States. If the administration concedes to welcome back opposition leaders, it may inspire Washington to offer some sort of amnesty deal. But the plan of calling for simultaneous elections and potentially eliminating any opposition risks backfiring. The United States could respond to attempts at electoral tampering with heavier sanctions against Venezuela, which would accelerate the country's economic decline, increase pressure on the government and likely prompt it to grow even more dictatorial as it struggles to hold onto power.