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Opinion: MUD win in Venezuela is a signal of hope

There are clear signs of change in Latin America: Following in Argentina's footsteps, Venezuela has now rejected left-wing populism. What the country needs now is an end to polarization, DW's Uta Thofern writes.

Venezuela has experienced normal democratic change - a victory for democracy and the constitution. Words like these from the man whose party just lost legislative elections are not to be taken for granted in Latin America. Argentina is currently witnessing a much sorer election loser: former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. That Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (pictured), of all people, would concede defeat just like that could certainly not be expected, especially after his bellicose rhetoric during the election campaign.

Deutsche Welle Uta Thofern

Uta Thofern is the Head of DW's Latin America programs

The winners, however, rejoiced rather quietly, too: "Humility, serenity, maturity," opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter, rights activist Lilian Tintori called for "peace and reconciliation," and the secretary-general of the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) wrote of a "Venezuela for all."

The landslide victory of the right-wing opposition

is not a cause for triumph; the bitter defeat suffered by the socialists is not a reason for hatred: If this initial result of Venezuela's parliamentary elections can remain in place, that would be a remarkable achievement already.

A protest vote

MUD won a convincing majority - but this was also a protest vote. Many voters were expressing their dissatisfaction with the Maduro government rather than giving their seal of approval to a program submitted by an opposition alliance that was, at best, vague in its intentions. But voters' desperation in the face of a disastrous supply situation and record inflation was obviously greater than their fear of welfare cuts. The numerous, diverse MUD members now have to collectively justify voters' trust.

It remains to be seen whether the new majority in parliament will be sufficient to instigate impeachment proceedings against the president or whether it will merely restrict his powers. Maduro was elected to serve until 2019; toppling him will be a much bigger challenge than winning a parliamentary election.

The new MUD lawmakers will need to work to establish viable economic structures and strengthen institutions that have been completely co-opted by the government. Maduro could, in turn, regain ground for his Socialist party if he retains last night's statesmanlike tone and, perhaps, even approves the release of Venezuela's political prisoners.

Voters have made clear that they are tired of political engineering and want an end to polarization. Venezuela needs security and stability in times of change, an end to corruption, faith in institutions, and a quick improvement of its economic situation. These are Herculean tasks that cannot be dealt with in a climate of hostility with parties pitted against one another. But, if Venezuela manages to cope, if the country manages to establish truly democratic cooperation in the wake of this election, that will be a very strong signal: Latin America would then turn into a continent of hope again.

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