This year was a significant one for South America, as two populist governments were voted out after ruling for more than a decade. Tired of financial woes and corruption, respectively, the Venezuelan and Argentinean electorates chose to make a 180-degree turn.
In the legislative election in Venezuela, the government of Nicolás Maduro suffered a categorical defeat when he lost two-thirds of the National Assembly to the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (“Democratic Unity Table,” MUD, in Spanish) opposition party. The unevenness in the number of representatives ‒ 112 for MUD and 55 for Maduro’s Socialist Party of Venezuela ‒ allows the majority to do practically anything they want, from approving a motion to hold a referendum on constitutional reform to designating new judges and calling for a constituent assembly.
Cornered by the financial crisis, the authoritarian government headed by Maduro has resisted conceding the victory to the opposition. It is now disputing 22 MUD’s elected legislators and working swiftly to pass reforms to take powers away from the new Assembly, to be sworn in on January 5. Its main focus is on creating a “Communal National Parliament” that would dispute the power of the new Assembly. The incumbent Assembly is hurriedly trying to appoint Chavista judges before the new one takes oath.
Meanwhile in Argentina, the victory of conservative Mauricio Macri by a small margin was immediately accepted by the government. Macri’s challenge will be to govern without a majority in Congress, a circumstance that has driven him to turn to decrees to perform his first actions. The method contradicts the rhetoric he campaigned on of respecting democratic form.
Both winners will have to control their impulse to undo everything their predecessors built. It would be a huge mistake to repeat the myopic and arrogant actions of those now leaving office, even if now it is with an opposite ideology.
The confrontational and divisive style of the leftist governments that took power after the neo-liberal age of the 1990s is now feeling politically fatigued. Still, others ‒ like Rafael Correa in Ecuador ‒ continue to change their countries’ constitutions in order to stay in power indefinitely.
The lesson learned in Venezuela and Argentina is that the power lies in the People. Although much can be said in its name, the majority is not necessarily well-represented. The voters have the last word.