The situation in Venezuela is becoming dangerously tense. Ramón Guillermo Aveledo says that the Sept. 26 parliamentary elections may be the last ones in the country—ever.

Aveledo, a prestigious lawyer, writer and former president of Congress, is the executive secretary of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, the umbrella organization for the united opposition.

What’s happening in the country? Possibly, Hugo Chávez could lose, so he’s looking for a way to tamper with the results. One month away from the elections, the most reliable survey—by Consultores 21, as disclosed by expert Joaquín Pérez Rodríguez—gives the victory to the opposition, 52 to 42 percent.

That fact is reinforced by another question that is even more revealing. When voters are asked whether they like or reject Chávez, 37 percent say they like him, 56 percent don’t.

Obviously, Chávez’s popularity has plummeted for at least five powerful reasons:

  • The unbearable violence that has turned Caracas into one of the world’s most dangerous cities and all of Venezuela into a slaughterhouse with more victims than Iraq, as The New York Times has reported. Almost 120,000 persons have been murdered since Chávez came to power. Violence has risen fourfold.
  • The whole of society detests the existence of paramilitary armed gangs in the service of the government. CNN called them “Chávez’s Guardians” in an excellent documentary that rattled the country. Their task is to intimidate and mistreat the population.
  • The infinite clumsiness of a government that, despite receiving a torrent of petrodollars, is incapable of supplying markets, conserving food (millions of kilos rot in warehouses or vanish), maintaining the infrastructures or equipping hospitals halfway decently. With good reason, Venezuelans perceive that no other country in South America is as poorly governed.
  • Venezuela’s uncomfortable occupation by Cubans and the donation of much of Venezuela’s wealth to Havana, Managua, Bolivia and the rest of the famished family of 21st-century socialism. With those subsidies, Chávez buys his international importance and fosters the highest level of corruption Venezuela has ever known—which is saying a lot.
  • The disappearance of every vestige of the rule of law and the vulnerability of society, with judges who answer only to the political power and police forces that do not arrest criminals (93 percent of all murders go unpunished) but imprison political adversaries and fabricate evidence.

Case in point—Alejandro Peña Esclusa, an engineer and opposition leader, well known and respected throughout Latin America, whom the government has linked to an absurd and senseless terrorist plot that nobody believes but that the government uses to keep him in jail with no right to bail. [On Friday, The AP reported, he was charged with hiding explosives in his home—allegations he called a farce in comments sent from his jail cell.]

What will Chávez do, facing the very real possibility that his adversaries secure a majority in Congress? The theory that the opposition fears most is that he will ignore the results. How? By fabricating a script that protects fraud. It goes something like this:

  • First, some polling organization controlled by the government would say that Chávez’s party is ahead of the opposition and would provide some favorable figures.
  • Second, on election day, that or some other organization would issue an exit poll confirming the original survey.
  • Third, late at night, the National Electoral Council, which says or ignores whatever it’s told to, would issue final figures, electronically obtained, that resemble those of the original survey and the false exit poll.

That is why Aveledo says that these elections might be the last. If Venezuelans allow victory to be snatched from them, the conclusion that democrats will reach is that in the future it will be meaningless to participate in rigged elections where the opposition is trampled before, during and after the trip to the polls.

“Can they avoid the swindle?” I asked former Venezuelan Ambassador Thor Halvorssen. His answer: “Only if they come out to vote massively and if they are willing to defend their votes on the streets, at any price and for as long as needed, as the Ukrainians did at one time.”

We shall see.