Back in 2011 (it feels like ten years ago, not five) my co-blogger, Doug Muir, published a list of old-fashioned personalized dictatorships. To be clear, these were not merely authoritarian governments: rather, they were non-monarchies where power was centralized in one despotic individual. Three years later, in 2014, I was shocked to find that the respected Polity database had downgraded Venezuela to a dictatorship. While the country was clearly sliding down the democracy league tables, little had happened to merit a fall into open authoritarianism. The opposition legislative victory in 2015 proved me correct. Finally, in 2015, Doug revisited his list of dictatorships. The big change was Russia, although he worried about where the Bolivarian Republic was heading.
There is now growing evidence that Venezuela may has finally have tipped over into dictatorship.
On October 17th, in a decision that was hard to find and gave me a headache to read, the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice altered the procedure for approving a recall petition. Short version: the National Electoral Council decided that the opposition would have to get 20% of the voters in each and every state rather than 20% of the voters across the nation. Considering as opposition is not evenly spread across the country, this would make a recall impossible.
When there was a recall petition in 2004 the signatures were gathered across the country. Article 72 of the Constitution says only that the signatures must be gathered in the “corresponding district,” which logically is the entire country for a presidential election.
But the Tribunal decided, in effect, that since the Constitution does not say that the Electoral Council cannot require signatures by state, then it is fine to require signatures by state. At least I think that is what they decided. Seriously, it gave me a headache.
That decision would have been bad enough, but then a bunch of Socialist governors declared that the opposition was gathering fraudulent signatures in their states. (The governors were Tareck El Aissami of Aragua, Francisco Ameliach of Carabobo, Francisco Rangel Gómez of Bolívar, and Ramón Carrizales of Apure.)The National Electoral Council then suspended the signature drive. Poof, end of referendum.
This comes on top of another Supreme Tribunal decision giving the President the unilateral authority to approve the budget.
I think that this qualifies Venezuela for straight-up dictatorship.