On the Venezuelan Presidential Election
April 25, 2018
A few days ago in Lima, Peru, during the Summit of the Americas, the presidents of 15 countries and the vice president of the United States agreed on a declaration in which they made “an urgent call to the Venezuelan government to hold presidential elections with the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent and democratic process, without political prisoners, including the participation of all Venezuelan political actors, and reaffirming that elections that do not comply with these conditions will lack legitimacy and credibility.”
It is highly probable that this call will not be heard by the government of Venezuela and, although it cannot be ruled out that the elections will be deferred for some political convenience, it is most likely that President Nicolás Maduro will be reelected for a new term of six years.
Before the election, we want to make some brief comments to make the Lima declaration more explicit:
1) The presidential term of Nicolás Maduro ends in January 2019. It is essential to ask why elections are held eight months in advance and, furthermore, who calls for those elections. As is well known, Venezuela is experiencing the most serious economic and social crisis of its history, and there is no sign of improvement. It can be assumed that the loss of support that Maduro has suffered will be accentuated in the coming months and that it is better for him to have the election as soon as possible. By moving the date of the elections forward, the government is trying to divide the opposition, making it impossible to hold primary elections to choose a single candidate to challenge Maduro or to have time to implement a consultation mechanism to decide whether to participate in those elections or not. The elections were not called by the National Electoral Council, as mandated by the Constitution, but by the National Constituent Assembly, which is not only illegal and the product of a fraud, but lacks the power to do so.
2) The elections set for May 20, as the Lima document states, will not be free, fair, transparent, or democratic for the following reasons:
a) The electoral registry has not been updated, which is why millions of young people who have turned 18 years old since the last update will not be able to vote. Neither can more than 1 million Venezuelan voters living outside the country.
b) More than 40 opposition political parties have been declared illegal, and the nominations of leaders with greater popular appeal have been banned.
c) Even though the law mandates that the electoral bodies be integrated in a balanced manner, the governing party exercises total control, from the National Electoral Council to the polling stations. Electoral witnesses of the opposition have not been guaranteed access to the process.
d) No audit of the electronic voting machines has been carried out, as required by law, and this facilitates the manipulation of the counting process and compromises the secrecy of votes.
e) Government social programs, especially the free or subsidized distribution of food and medicines, are used to pressure or blackmail voters in favor of the governing party.
f) The government and the ruling party have almost a total monopoly on all media, especially radio, television, and the press.
g) In some parts of the country, voters have been assigned voting centers that are very far from their homes.
We must remember that the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States establishes that:
“Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.” (Article 3)
In accordance with these principles, most democratic governments have announced that they will not recognize the result of the fraudulent election, but this is not enough. As our colleague Mark Schneider pointed out in a publication on this site before the summit, “a Lima declaration not only needs to reject the dictatorial design and fraudulent election planned by Caracas for May 20 but also to impose four or five immediate hemisphere-wide penalties if the regime goes forward—and those sanctions need to bite.” Sadly, Mr. Schneider’s second proposal was not adopted.
Gustavo Tarre is a senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2018 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.