NEW YORK — Though recent political developments in Venezuela have confirmed the long decline in that country’s democratic trajectory, President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to convene a constitutional assembly confirms suspicions that the regime is descending into dictatorship. In addition to justifying his decision by suggesting that it was made in consultation with the military, Maduro’s move to replace the 1999 Constitution promulgated under his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, concurrently represents an act of desperation and a clear signal that his government no longer denies the deep crisis that its economic policies and political decisions have provoked.
Since coming into office amid accusations of vote-tampering in the 2013 election, President Maduro seems to have tried hard to prove his critics right. Accused of failing to respect democratic practices and prosecuting political opponents, Maduro has governed in a way that would shame any democratically-minded observer. Though many of the president’s decisions can be individually justified with ad hoc comparisons to practices that are either common or at least acceptable in well-functioning democracies — like the jailing of opponents who have broken the law or the closing of media outlets that call for the overthrow of the government — when seen as part of a pattern, those practices expose a regime that cannot be classified as democratic. Maduro has governed in a way that cannot be labelled as consistent with democratic values. After he admitted defeat in the 2015 legislative election — which is a sign that the opposition can still bring about change through institutional means — he has made every effort to undermine the ability of the National Assembly to serve as an effective check in what should be a divided government.
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