December 11, 2015 / 3:33 PM / 4 years ago

Socialist dissenters urge Venezuela reform after vote loss

CARACAS (Reuters) - A splinter faction of Venezuela’s ruling socialist movement is pressing for urgent economic measures following defeat in Sunday’s legislative election, adding pressure from the left on broadly unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a gathering outside Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

Socialist Tide, a small group of leftist intellectuals that has broken with the government, accuses Maduro of betraying his predecessor Hugo Chavez by allowing corruption, bureaucracy and incompetence to flourish in the OPEC member country.

Cracks have widened within the ruling Socialist Party under the former bus driver and union leader, who lacks his predecessor’s political acumen and has failed to overhaul the failing economy.

“They’re destroying the revolution,” said Gonzalo Gomez, a Socialist Tide leader, in an interview, calling the opposition’s victory a “jolt” that requires policy change.

The opposition won a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, as exhausted Venezuelans voted for relief from food shortages and salary-destroying inflation.

That has emboldened hardline opposition leaders who want to oust Maduro in a recall referendum next year.

Some on the disenchanted left are also pondering the same move if Maduro does not open debate within “Chavista” ranks and fails to reform.

“This is a possibility,” said Gomez of the referendum.

“But we’re not going to put forward a recall referendum just because it might be right and necessary, only if there are possibilities of generating change via the revolution. We’re not going to help the right grab control.”

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To be sure, Socialist Tide remains a niche group that has not gained popular following, although its leaders are vocal on Venezuela’s busy social media scene.

The group recommends auditing currency controls, where it estimates some $259 billion are unaccounted for, and placing workers in charge of unproductive nationalized companies.

The opposition and many economists, however, say corruption and bureaucracy are inherent in the state-led system Chavez championed.

Critics scoff that Socialist Tide has failed to grasp basic economics and accuse members of hypocrisy for only now decrying what has plagued “Chavismo” nearly since its inception.

Maduro, fearing further disunity, has also hit out at the dissidents.

“The press is looking for ex-ministers to make headlines. Against whom? Against Maduro!,” he said on Tuesday.

“It’s a psychological war to divide us.”

A day later, during a news conference of former Chavez ministers and Socialist Tide members, a dozen apparent government sympathizers barged in shouting “traitors!” through megaphones.

“Maduro gave a signal to some people whose way of interpreting things isn’t exactly participative democracy,” said Gomez. “They are worrisome signs.”

Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and James Dalgleish

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