By Raúl Gallegos
For years people have been forecasting the fall of President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled strongman. And now, with Venezuela’s hyperinflation estimated to hit 13,000 this year, the deepest economic contraction in Latin America’s recorded history with GDP falling one third in the last four years, imploding oil output, a hungry population that hates him and an increasingly disgruntled military, Maduro will find it harder to cling on.
What are the odds of him leaving office in the next 12 months? This can happen in six different ways:
1) Natural death: People die and presidents are no exception. Maduro has no known illnesses, but for an overweight 55-year-old, the massive stress level of running a failed nation can take a toll. Venezuela’s available census figures for 2001 and 2011, and the official morbidity reports covering accidents and all illnesses for those years show that people in Maduro’s age group (55-59 year olds) face a chance of natural death as high as 1.23%. Take that as a base rate. True, these figures have surely worsened since the crisis began in 2014, but unlike most Venezuelans Maduro has access to food and better medical care than most.
2) Assassination: Venezuelans are a peace-loving population with no real history of presidential assassinations even though many would want Maduro dead. Since 1900 only one out of 31 presidents has been assassinated: Carlos Delgado Chalbaud was killed in 1950 shortly before a rival took over and became dictator. That’s a rate of 3.23% of sitting leaders killed in the past 119 years, which can serve as a rough benchmark. This estimate can increase the more violent and radical Maduro’s opponents become.
3) Resignation: One thing is clear – Maduro is not a quitter. He boldly scrapped the recall referendum that sought to oust him in 2016; he forced the creation of a Constitutional Assembly to safeguard his power; he gave the military control over oil to ensure its support and he now aims to win a rigged re-election in May. Since 1900 only one leader out of 31 has quit: Carlos Andres Perez, who was about to be impeached. That’s a 3.23% chance. But adjust that down by say a third, given Maduro’s intense desire to cling on, and that leaves the odds of him willingly quitting at 2.13%.
4) Impeachment: The impeachment of Venezuela’s leader is the most unlikely of all. In 1993 President Carlos Andres Perez was impeached for corruption despite his public resignation, because the Supreme Court and Congress were filled with his enemies. That’s only one president out of 31 impeached in more than a century – or a 3.23% chance of getting the boot. But Maduro controls all levers of power, including the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and the all-powerful Constitutional Assembly, so the chance of institutions turning against him is lower. Reduce the historical rate by two thirds and the odds of him getting pushed out legally by the institutions that have protected him stand at 1.06%.
5) Coup: The risk of Maduro’s overthrow is higher and keeps rising. Since 1900 only five coups have successfully toppled presidents, including the brief ouster of the late Hugo Chavez in 2002. That’s five presidents ousted out of 31, or a 16.13% chance of getting toppled. Most coups have happened because the presidents had done little to ensure the support of the military. The Chavismo regime in contrast has used a carrot and a stick to handle the armed forces. It has handed top generals power over key ministries and state companies, including the oil sector. It has turned a blind eye to military corruption like the smuggling of gasoline, food, drugs and illegal currency trading, to name a few peccadilloes. And it has used an Orwellian intelligence apparatus to jail or root out dissenters from the ranks. So adjust the historical rate down by a third for a 10.65% chance of ouster.
6) Losing the May 20 election: That’s a tall order. Maduro owns the National Electoral Council, CNE. This is the same CNE that scrapped the recall vote against him in 2016, that helped Maduro to create a Constitutional Assembly stuffed with loyalists, and that held elections for mayors and governors plagued with irregularities -even ballot stuffing – to ensure Chavismo’s success. His re-election is almost a certainty, but give it a 5% chance of him losing to his opponent, the former Chavista Henri Falcon. That’s assuming a successful Chavista plot to turn on Maduro. Don’t hold your breath.
Add the odds and Maduro’s chance of leaving before the end of March 2019 stand at 23.3%, for now. Of course history is not always the best guide of how things will turn out in the future. A military that runs more and more institutions is better positioned to force Maduro to leave or to topple him one day. Desperate Venezuelans can surely turn more violent than what their history would suggest. And Maduro could become terminally ill like his predecessor. One thing is for sure: With Maduro’s regime increasingly against the ropes, it’s time to start keeping score.
Raúl Gallegos is Associate Director for Control Risks and the author of Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela.
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