The winners in any Sore Election Losers contest this year have to be the leftist leaders of Argentina and Venezuela. Both are descending to dirty tricks and petulant behavior after voters repudiated their economic mismanagement.
Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner announced on Tuesday that she would end her controversial eight years in office by refusing to attend the Thursday inauguration of her conservative successor, Mauricio Macri. Leaders of her Peronist-party caucus in the legislature also announced they wouldn’t attend. Kirchner has claimed in an escalating series of Twitter messages that Macri had shown disrespect for her as a woman in a phone call and screamed at her. She has taken the presidential Twitter account with her, forcing Macri’s staff to reopen one for his presidential office.
Would that all of Kirchner’s behavior were so trivial. She criticized a court ruling that this week made clear that her administration ended at midnight on Wednesday, preventing her from issuing some monkey-wrench decrees. Even so, in her last days she approved billions of dollars in spending for provincial governors — most of them from her party — leaving federal-government coffers dry. New spending was also allocated to her pet projects, such as Football for All — which holds free soccer matches accompanied by political sloganeering. Her handpicked head of the Central Bank is refusing to leave office.
“It seems the idea is to fill the transition process with obstacles and create as many problems as possible for the new government,” Macri told reporters. “This is a sad choice that the president has made. Everything she does that she thinks will hurt our government will in reality hurt all Argentines.”
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But Kirchner’s foot-stomping is nothing compared with that of Venezuela’s Chavista government, which was so thoroughly thrashed in Sunday’s legislative election that the opposition won an astonishing two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. The opposition even won the Caracas hillside slum where the late Hugo Chávez is buried.
But few Venezuelans would know the scale of the defeat that Chavista president Nicolás Maduro’s party suffered if they relied on traditional media. During the campaign, Venezuela’s national broadcasters blacked out opposition events to the point that a special YouTube channel was used to get the opposition’s message out. After the opposition victory, its celebration was briefly shown on national television before coverage ended and viewers had to endure socialist roundtable discussions and reality-TV shows on the results of Chávez social programs. No national channel broadcast the opposition’s statements after Election Night. Maduro’s ruling party urged supporters to defend its revolution by tweeting out images of Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin.
The opposition has been hoping to at least rein in the National Assembly’s TV channel, ANTV, which has been a notorious source of pro-government propaganda. ANTV’s web homepage features “58 songs by our Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez.” At one point, ANTV chose to film the ceiling of the National Assembly, so that viewers could not see a fistfight that hospitalized opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado.
“To use state money, the money of all Venezuelans, and manipulate media as if it were propaganda tools for a political party is not only inelegant, it is also corrupt,” opposition coalition leader Jesús Torrealba told reporters on Tuesday. Torrealba has struck a conciliatory note overall, saying, “We’re not going into the National Assembly to trample on the minority. . . . There’s room for everyone in this project, this is one single project called Venezuela, a united Venezuela.”
#share#Later that day, outgoing National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello announced that he was turning over full control of the channel to its 300 political appointees so they would have job protection when the opposition takes over. The opposition denies that it was planning massive layoffs, but it does want to move toward political balance in the channel’s programming.
More seriously, President Maduro announced this week that he would take several steps to “protect the achievements of the revolution” against any opposition moves in the National Assembly. He vowed to reject efforts by the assembly to free prisoners in jail that international observers say were convicted on trumped-up political charges. “I won’t accept [it].#…#The murderers of the people have to be judged and have to pay for what they have done!” Maduro declared on state TV.
Maduro has also announced that new supreme-court judges will be appointed before the opposition takes power. Since the Venezuelan constitution allows a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly to replace supreme-court justices, look for a bitter, ongoing confrontation on the legitimacy of the court.
Many observers believe this is only the beginning of a power struggle between the two sides. Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer writes that “Maduro is likely to try several dirty tricks — including buying off legislators and using the judiciary to curtail legislative powers — to weaken the opposition supermajority in the newly elected National Assembly.”
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But his range of action may now be circumscribed. The Venezuelan military is dominated by Chavista appointees, but they have no appetite to protect Maduro from street protests by using violence. Argentina’s new president, Macri, has pledged to demand diplomatic sanctions against Venezuela in the Organization of American States if Maduro doesn’t abide by democratic principles. Leftist Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, once a stalwart Maduro ally, is now considered unlikely to risk political capital on Maduro’s behalf, given that she faces a serious threat of impeachment and removal from office.
But perhaps the greatest constraint on Maduro is the same one that helped bring down Kirchner’s Peronist party in Argentina: The socialists’ economic mismanagement has left them incapable of paying off all the special interests in their coalition now that commodity prices, from oil to soybeans, have fallen. “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Margaret Thatcher once said. Here’s hoping that the forces trying to bring both Argentina and Venezuela back into the world economy will be able to overcome the sniping of the leftist opponents who give every sign they want them to fail.