Over the past 2 weeks, the political crisis in Venezuela has escalated to extreme levels. The already embattled president of the country Nicolás Maduro is now openly being challenged by the speaker of the parliament Juan Guaido to step aside and allow him to govern instead.
The claim is that the presidential elections last year were illegitimate, and he is the only politician in the country with a genuine mandate to lead.
Notably, the international reaction has been rather polarized with many countries supporting the national assembly led by Guaido and others insisting that Maduro is the legitimate president and cannot be removed at this point.
To understand the origins of this crisis, one needs to go back to last year in which Venezuela had its last presidential election and its contested nature. Even though Maduro won an overwhelming majority of the votes, the opposition and many international observers claimed irregularities which thereby nullified the legitimacy of the election.
Several of the main opposition parties were not included in the election prompting accusations of rigging and leading to the main opposition parties rejecting the results. Even before the election, several countries in the region stated that they would not recognize the elections due to perceived inadequacies in the process.
Such a context provide an environment for international actors to impugn the legitimacy of Venezuela.
The Trump administration has been particularly vocal in its demands for Maduro to make his exit even to the point of not ruling out force as an option. Even most of Venezuela’s neighbors have called for Maduro to step down with Mexico being the notable exception to the regional trend.
Some observers have suggested to Maduro that the only way to maintain his legitimacy is and avoid international meddling would be to call new elections which are not marred by the dubious practices that featured last year’s.