World Economy

Venezuela set for ‘historic change’ this weekend

Venezuelans will head to the polls this Sunday and, for the first time in 16 years, the opposition is the clear favorite to win, posing a challenge to the hardline "Chavismo" government.

Venezuela's economy is in dire straits due to years of mismanagement. The economy is seen shrinking by 10 percent this year, with inflation running at an astonishing 159.1 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo and the increasing authoritarianism of the ruling party under President Nicolas Maduro – the successor of the late Hugo Chavez – has seen an increase in support for the Democratic Unity Table opposition coalition.

Students take part in a rally against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas on Nov. 21, 2015.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins | Reuters

"Although an opposition victory would not directly imply a regime change, the rebalancing of power and the erosion of the government's political clout could increase the likelihood of a political transition. The larger the opposition victory, the faster such a transition might be, in our view," said Barclays analysts in a report on Monday called "Venezuela: A historic change."

The elections are legislative rather than presidential and any change will be limited by the dominance of Chavistas – supporters of the left-wing populism associated with Chavez –in all other branches of government.

"Chavismo is not accustomed to sharing power and this is unlikely to change even as the government's internal divisions grow. Substantive policy changes are therefore unlikely to materialize after the election. Equally, a change of leadership is unlikely because there are no significantly more popular alternatives to Maduro," Nicholas Watson, senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence, said in a report on Tuesday.

Left-wing governments are under fire in Latin America. Last month, Argentina elected a pro-business opposition candidate, Mauricio Macri, as president, ending 14 years of socialist rule. And this week, Brazil's Congress launched impeachment proceedings against the center-left President Dilma Rousseff.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks to the media following a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York on July 28, 2015
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Argentina's regime change is seen as a chance for the country to regain investors' confidence and re-access the capital markets, but analysts are less hopeful about Venezuela.

Apart from the disastrous economy, Venezuela's political opposition is formed by a disparate array of parties, whose leaders and members face violence and trumped-up criminal allegations.

"Venezuela is such an extreme case… The conditions in Argentina are nothing like as bad as in Venezuela," Mauro Leos, a senior credit officer at Moody's Investors Service, said at a conference in November.


"There is a way out for Macri and new policies. When I look at Venezuela, I can see no way out, there are no policies, there is no opposition," he later added.

Political tensions in Venezuela will remain high in 2016, with some opposition elements calling for a recall referendum against Maduro in April.

In addition, Leos said that Venezuela could default in the middle of next year. Moody's downgraded the country's credit rating in January 2015 to "Caa3", suggesting Venezuela's ability to pay its debts is "extremely speculative."

"It's very simple: At the end of the day, it is running out of dollars," Leos said.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.