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Crisis Group Welcomes New President & CEO Robert Malley
Crisis Group Welcomes New President & CEO Robert Malley
President Maduro’s Likely Re-election in Breadline Venezuela
President Maduro’s Likely Re-election in Breadline Venezuela
Robert Malley speaks at a joint Crisis Group and Chatham House event on 20 November 2017. He takes over as Crisis Group's president on 1 January 2018. CRISISGROUP/JDDL
Media Release

Crisis Group Welcomes New President & CEO Robert Malley

The International Crisis Group is pleased to announce that Robert Malley will be our organisation’s next President & Chief Executive Officer.

Malley, currently Vice President for Policy, will take over from outgoing President & CEO Jean-Marie Guéhenno from 1 January 2018. Malley was formerly Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director and most recently was a Special Assistant to former U.S. President Barack Obama as well as Senior Adviser to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign, and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region. Previously, he served as President Bill Clinton’s Special Assistant for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs.

I especially look forward to leading Crisis Group’s extraordinary field staff as they work to help prevent or resolve more than 50 deadly crises and conflicts around the world.
Robert Malley takes over as Crisis Group's President and CEO on 1 January 2018.

“I’m honoured and excited to have been chosen to shape the future of such a uniquely valuable, global organisation of which I have been a part for over twelve years. I especially look forward to leading Crisis Group’s extraordinary field staff as they work to help prevent or resolve more than 50 deadly crises and conflicts around the world”, Malley said.

“What makes Crisis Group special is its presence on the ground, its ability to talk to all parties in conflict, and its focus on providing credible facts, rigorous analysis and practical recommendations”, Malley added. “I shall resolutely defend our independence and our commitment to making a difference by sounding alarm bells, advocating effective policies and challenging orthodoxy. And, working with our entire team, I will strive to find new ways to ensure that Crisis Group has as strong an impact as possible as we tackle the world’s most intractable as well as its more forgotten conflicts”.

“This is an excellent new beginning for Crisis Group, and we will seize on the opportunity to build further on our strong and effective track record”, said Lord Malloch-Brown, Chair of Crisis Group’s Board of Trustees. “Rob Malley brings just the right mix of highly relevant experience of both government policymaking and field work within our organisation, and the Board of Trustees looks forward to giving him all support in his new role”.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a campaign rally in Caracas, Venezuela on 4 May 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

President Maduro’s Likely Re-election in Breadline Venezuela

As tens of thousands of Venezuelans stream into neighbouring countries, President Nicolás Maduro appears set to win elections on 20 May. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for the Andes Phil Gunson looks ahead to the vote and its aftermath and explains why the crisis is likely to deepen.

What is at stake in the 20 May elections?

These elections are for the presidency of the republic and for regional legislatures in each of Venezuela’s 23 states. The president is both head of state and of government, as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

President Nicolás Maduro was elected in 2013 to complete the six-year term of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, after Chávez died of cancer. That term ends in early 2019, but the government brought forward the elections – which would normally be held in December – to take advantage of the Venezuelan opposition’s weaknesses and divisions. In doing so, it derailed negotiations, primarily over election conditions, which were underway in the Dominican Republic in the presence of international facilitators.

Who are the main candidates and what are their chances?

President Maduro’s main challenger is former state Governor Henri Falcón, leader of the centre-left Avanzada Progresista party. Falcón, who was once an ally of Chávez, has broken with the Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition alliance, which has called for a boycott. A dark horse candidate is Javier Bertucci, an evangelical pastor with no background in politics.

Early opinion polls suggested Falcón was leading the races, though Bertucci has lately been eating into his support. President Maduro himself enjoys the approval of around a quarter of the electorate.

Maduro’s control of key institutions, including the electoral authority (CNE), the courts and the army, as well as the massive disparity in campaign finance, make him virtually unassailable.

Those polls are unlikely to provide an accurate projection of election results, however, particularly if opposition voters heed their leaders’ call to shun the vote. In reality, Falcón’s chances of winning are remote. Maduro’s control of key institutions, including the electoral authority (CNE), the courts and the army, as well as the massive disparity in campaign finance, make him virtually unassailable – this despite the fact that the economy has collapsed since he took office. Venezuelans are fleeing the country by the hundreds of thousands, largely because of hyperinflation (currently running at around 13,000 per cent a year) and critical scarcities of food, medicine and cash.

How credible is the opposition claim that the election is rigged?

Elections in Venezuela have been marred for well over a decade by campaign violations on the part of government candidates, which go unpunished by the CNE. These violations mostly involve the use of state resources – personnel, vehicles and buildings, as well as public funds – for campaigning and an overwhelming imbalance in media coverage. The president, for example, broadcasts campaign activities on live television and radio, which all channels are often obliged to transmit simultaneously (so-called cadenas, or “chains”).

By bringing the election date forward, the government ensured the opposition had no time to hold primaries.

The two most popular opposition leaders, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López, are both barred from running, and the CNE has cancelled the registration of many parties, including those of Capriles and López, as well as the opposition MUD alliance itself. By bringing the election date forward, the government ensured the opposition had no time to hold primaries.

Moreover, the early date also means a president-elect will wait more than eight months for his inauguration. Even in the highly unlikely event of an opposition win, the government would thus have plenty of time to manipulate the rules – for example by stripping the presidency of some powers – which it can now do through the new National Constituent Assembly. This body, elected last year in polls the opposition also boycotted, comprises exclusively pro-government figures. For practical purposes it has replaced the opposition-controlled parliament and is deemed to have authority over all branches of government, including the presidency.

Given that the Venezuelan opposition has participated even in unfair elections before, what has prompted the boycott this time?

Venezuelan election monitors, as well as a large part of the opposition, say conditions are significantly worse this time. For example, the electronic voting system, subjected to a series of opposition-scrutinised audits, previously ensured that votes cast were properly counted. In last October’s gubernatorial elections, however, the opposition produced documentary proof that the vote count had been altered in one state. The CNE has failed to respond to the complaint. The private company, Smartmatic, that supplied the voting machines has withdrawn after alleging that the CNE inflated turnout in the Constituent Assembly elections by over a million votes. Moreover, an opposition governor-elect was barred from taking office for refusing to be sworn in by the Constituent Assembly. (Falcón has said he too would reject that condition were he to win.)

President Maduro and chavismo retain a genuine base of support, thanks largely to the lingering effect of Hugo Chávez’s charisma and the welfare programs that he promoted.

By announcing the election date with less than twelve weeks’ notice, the government also ensured there was not enough time to carry out all the pre-election checks and audits intended to safeguard the integrity of the process. The election register has not been audited since 2007, and the process of updating it for this election was carried out practically in secret. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have left the country are impeded from voting by restrictive rules and consular staff who place obstacles in their way. The indelible ink used in past elections to prevent multiple voting will not be employed on this occasion.

Even so, millions of genuine votes are predicted to be cast for Maduro. What is the explanation?

President Maduro and chavismo retain a genuine base of support, thanks largely to the lingering effect of Hugo Chávez’s charisma and the welfare programs that he promoted. That said, polls also suggest that most of the voters who do not support him would like to see Maduro leave office immediately.

Many Venezuelans appear likely to vote for the incumbent out of fear or necessity. These include government employees fearful of losing their jobs as well as the millions of recipients of subsidised food handouts and other benefits. The government demands that voters carry a “homeland card” (carnet de la patria) to be scanned at special booths outside polling stations run by the ruling party. The card’s QR code contains personal details about the benefits each individual receives, and the threat – implicit or explicit– is that these benefits will be cut if voters do not do as the government wants. According to polling evidence, almost half of Venezuelan homes receive food rations regularly, and close to six out of ten voters do not believe their vote is secret.

More than a dozen of its hemispheric neighbours, known as the Lima Group, have said they will not recognise the result of the election.

What has been the reaction in the region and internationally?

The Venezuelan government has never been more isolated. More than a dozen of its hemispheric neighbours, known as the Lima Group, have said they will not recognise the result of the election, and Washington has taken a similar position. The European Union (EU) and many of its allies have said the election will not be free, fair or transparent and the EU has declined to send observers, as has the United Nations. The U.S., Canada, the EU and others have adopted sanctions, largely targeted against leading government figures, and called for a restoration of democracy. One of the MUD’s arguments for not taking part in the elections has been the refusal of many foreign governments to recognise the poll’s legitimacy.

For their part, Maduro’s allies – who include Russia, China and Cuba, as well as some smaller Latin American and Caribbean nations – have objected to what they see as interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

Are we likely to see a rerun of last year’s violent protests if Maduro is declared the winner?

That seems unlikely. Falcón may simply recognise Maduro’s victory. It would be difficult for him to complain that the election was rigged after claiming the rest of the opposition was wrong to take that position from the start. On the other hand, he could argue that the government committed electoral crimes such as vote-buying, which he has asked the Supreme Court to prohibit. Either way, opposition supporters are demoralised and demobilised; many have lost faith in opposition leaders and they will not easily take to the streets. They have seen very clearly the cost of dissent, both in the repression of last year’s protests and in the brutal response earlier this year to a small armed rebellion. The rebels were apparently executed after offering to surrender. Recent polls suggest that hundreds of thousands are considering joining the mass exodus.

If Maduro is re-elected, what hope is there for resolving the crisis?

Maduro has no plan to resolve what has become a profound economic and social crisis; in fact, he has promised to double down on the very policies that brought it about. The government, for example, has “temporarily” taken over the country’s biggest private bank, Banesco, and forced the only remaining manufacturer of car batteries, a private company, to slash its prices. Maduro proposes to resolve problems like the critical shortage of paper money and U.S. financial sanctions by replacing the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, with “cryptocurrency” – dubbed the Petro – for an ever-growing list of transactions.

The crisis is so severe that it could provoke either friction within the ruling civilian-military alliance or social breakdown on a much greater scale. Oil exports, on which the country is critically dependent, are falling fast, thanks to declining production and the fear that creditors may seize tankers on the high seas. Hyperinflationary crises are inherently unstable. It seems likely that the longer the government is unable or unwilling to tackle Venezuela’s crisis, the more likely it is to provoke further instability, potentially even among civilian or military elites. Dozens of arrests of military officers in recent months point to discontent in the armed forces, although so far no leader – civilian or military – has emerged within chavismo with the strength to mount a serious challenge to Maduro.

Another potential source of conflict is the deteriorating relationship with Colombia ... The complex web of competing armed groups on the two countries’ common border is a possible flashpoint.

Washington refuses to rule out military intervention. Such an intervention for now appears unlikely, but would almost certainly create enormous instability. The vast majority of regional governments flatly oppose such an idea and even floating it plays into the hands of Maduro, who argues that his opponents are proxies of Western imperialism. Another potential source of conflict is the deteriorating relationship with Colombia, which is in the throes of its own presidential election. The complex web of competing armed groups on the two countries’ common border is a possible flashpoint.

Crisis Group believes that a stable and workable solution can only come through negotiations, but the breakdown of talks in Santo Domingo earlier this year means that any resumption would have to be preceded by a commitment from the government to act in good faith and accept a broad agenda of political, institutional and economic reform. Convincing the government to embrace talks will most likely require continued international pressure, combined with clear signals as to the steps that would have to be taken for sanctions to be lifted.