viernes, diciembre 05, 2008

The elections in Venezuela

The elections in Venezuela
The imbalance of power in a polarized society
Alfredo Ascanio (askain)

The election of November 23 is a process to choose 22 state governors, 328 mayors, 233 state legislative councilors and a range of other local positions. 17 million Venezuelans will have the opportunity to vote in these elections.

The elections will be the 14th set of national votes held since 1998 when Hugo Chavez was first elected as President. Hugo Chavez and his coalition of supporters have won 12 of the 13 previous national elections and referenda.

This is in stark contrast to the 40 years prior to President Chavez’s election, when only 15 national electoral contests were staged in Venezuela.

Elections under the government of Hugo Chavez have been verified as free and fair by a range of independent international observers including the Organization of American States, the European Union and the US Carter Centre.

A total of 134 foreign observers will take part in November's election, according to Venezuela's independent National Electoral Council (CNE). The observers will come from 34 member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS), and include representatives of electoral organizations from America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

With regards to equality, half of the candidates standing in the local and regional elections will be women, following the implementation of legislation to ensure gender equality earlier this year. This is a tremendous advance for women in Venezuela - when these elections were last contested in 2004, 82% of candidates were male and 18% female.

PREVIOUS REGIONAL ELECTIONS IN VENEZUELA: Equivalent elections to those on 23 November took place in Venezuela in October 2004. Chavez’s coalition of supporters won the elections in 80 per cent of the local authorities and 22 out of 24 governors. However, it should be noted that, during the run-up to the previous regional elections in October 2004, much of the opposition called on their supporters to abstain in an effort to discredit the Venezuelan electoral system, which they claimed was "fraudulent" after their defeat in the August 2004 referendum on whether President Chavez would remain in office.

These claims became increasingly unsustainable after electoral observation missions from the European Union, the OAS and the Carter Center repeatedly expressed satisfaction with the transparency, fairness, and inclusive nature of Venezuela's electoral system.

As no such boycott will occur this time, it is reasonable to assume that this will strengthen the opposition's level of support, all other things being equal. It is hoped that accurate and honest media coverage will recognize this fact.

In 2000, Chavez’s coalition of supporters won 18 governors and the opposition six. However, three governors elected with Chavez’s support later became part of the opposition.

A TRANSPARENT AND INCLUSIVE ELECTORAL PROCESS: Venezuela's electoral system has undergone significant improvements under the Chavez government that have helped achieve a transparent process and an increase in voter participation. Some of these are looked at below:

AN INDEPENDENT ELECTION: The National Electoral Council (CNE), body in charge of administering elections in Venezuela is an independent branch of state. It is comprised of 11 members of the National Assembly and 10 representatives of civil society, none of who are appointed by the President.

MONITORING OF THE ELECTION: Venezuela's elections are among the most observed anywhere in the world. At each of the 11,500 voting centers throughout the country, the dozens of parties involved in the election will be entitled to an observer - one example of how at different levels of the electoral process in Venezuela, the opposition can fully participate.

TRANSPARENCY: The November 23 elections will be 100% computerized. Voting will take place using an electronic touch-screen voting machine that will provide every voter with a receipt. This allows the election authorities to conduct a manual recount of the paper receipts if the tally of a particular voting centre is challenged.

The full electronic results will also be checked against a hand counted audit of 53 per cent of the machines. Thirty political parties and organizations expressed their satisfaction in one of the many audits carried out by the CNE, which took place on November 16. Thus far the CNE has carried out 53 such audits. The machines produce a receipt to allow the voter to check their vote.

US Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) has argued they are therefore more reliable than those used in several countries including the USA. On the security of the voting machines, the report of the Chairperson of the EU Observation Mission to the 2005 elections stated, "the general conclusion of the observers was that the voting machines seemed very reliable."

ENHANCING VOTER PARTICIPATION: Over the last few years, voter participation in Venezuelan elections has increased significantly, and in large part thanks to measures adopted by the CNE. It has carried out extensive voter registration campaigns that contributed to a 64% increase in the number of registered voters between 1998 and 2007.

Parallel to this effort, the CNE has made voting much more accessible to millions of Venezuelans by adding new voting stations in poor neighborhoods and rural areas. It should be noted that these advances have benefited all Venezuelans by increasing democratic participation. In particular, though, they have helped to empower the less privileged citizens in poor areas and Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous communities that have traditionally been left on the sidelines of Venezuelan politics.

To facilitate turnout in 23 November elections, the CNE has established 1,500 Centers of Electoral Information throughout the country.

The CNE has also produced a short video clip - with added sign language for the deaf and those with partial hearing - and a radio broadcast which are run nationally three times a day, with detailed information as to how to cast one's vote. It has also printed gigantic posters with didactic information for the voters that have been distributed to every single municipality in the country.

The CNE has additionally added a bulletin in the national press containing all the information relevant to the regional elections, including location of polling stations and how to cast the vote.

VENEZUELANS CONFIDENCE IN THEIR DEMOCRACY: Some media have propagated the myth that President Chavez is ‘authoritarian', or a ‘dictator', and that his supporters have stayed in power by increasing central concentration of power. Yet the latest annual survey of Latin American opinion, carried out by the independent and respected polling firm Latinobarometro, showed that Venezuela is now the country with the greatest support for democracy in Latin America on 82%. The average level of support in Latin America is 57%. This represents a huge increase in support for democracy in Venezuela under Chavez.

In 1998, just before Chavez was first elected, the Latin American average satisfaction with democracy was 37% and Venezuela was below this average with only 35%.
Venezuela is also now the country with the second highest levels of satisfaction with their democracy: 49% against an average of 37%. Additionally, Venezuela has, by far, the greatest number of political parties registered of any Latin American nation: 85 compared to the next highest of 22.

Far from the government of Hugo Chavez restricting democracy as is often falsely claimed, Hugo Chavez and his supporters have won twelve out of thirteen electoral contests on a national basis since 1998.

These are: ?

1. December 1998: Hugo Chavez elected president with 56.2 per cent of the vote. ?

2. April 1999: National referendum on convening a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution won with 71.8 per cent support. ?

3. July 1999: Election of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, Chavez supporters won a large majority of seats.

4. December 1999: Referendum on whether to adopt the new constitution, won by Chavez supporters with 71.9 per cent of the vote. ?

5. July 2000: Presidential election held under the new constitution, won by Hugo Chavez with an increased majority of 59.76 per cent of the vote.

?6. July 2000: Election of the National Assembly, Chavez supporters won a majority of the seats?.

7. December 2000: Municipal elections with around two thirds supporting pro-Chavez parties.

?8. August 2004 - National elections for councilors for local municipalities and local parishes. ?

9. August 2004: A national referendum called by the opposition on whether or not to remove Chavez from power, won by President Chavez with 59.3 per cent of the vote. ?

10. October 2004: Local and regional elections throughout the country, Chavez supporters won the elections in 80 per cent of the local authorities and 20 out of 22 provincial governments. ?

11. December 2005: National Assembly elections. Chavez’s party, the MVR, won a large majority of the seats following the cynical boycott of the election by some of the opposition. ?

12. December 2006 - Presidential election. Hugo Chavez was re-elected with 63%. ?

13. December 2007 - National referendum on constitutional changes misrepresentation.

REGARDING NOVEMBER'S ELECTION: One of the main misrepresentations in the run up to the 23 November has been on so called ‘barring' of political candidates.

Sections of the Venezuelan opposition have claimed the elections will not be free and fair due to a decision by Venezuela's Comptroller General, Clodosbaldo Russian, to temporarily disqualify a list of around 250 individuals from standing for public office after being found guilty of corruption and/or misuse of public funds. Of these a much smaller number intended to stand for election.

The opposition, finding an echo in sections of the media, has argued that the "list of banned candidates is politically motivated and illegal" (International Herald Tribune, July 8, 2008). They add that the measure is unconstitutional. This interpretation is wrong. Some have falsely claimed that this is an attempt to exclude opponents of President Chavez.

However the list of disqualified individuals includes both supporters and opponents of the government - a report in the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias on 14 July stated that a majority could be identified as government supporters. Furthermore, many of the disqualifications were not imposed recently and are the consequence of investigations by the Comptroller General over a number of years.

This decision by the Comptroller General is both lawful and constitutional. Such legal instruments to apply sanctions against individuals whose probity as holders of public office is under question has existed in Venezuela since 1975.

The current legislation was adopted in 2002 as an anti-corruption measure by Venezuela's National Assembly in a near unanimous vote, including support from parties opposed to the Chavez government that then had strong representation in the National Assembly.

The disqualified candidates have also had the opportunity to legally contest the decision and the disbarring was upheld as constitutional by a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling on 5 August.

Opponents of Venezuela's social progress have regularly propagated a substantial campaign of disinformation seeking to undermine the Hugo Chavez government. The latest false claims relating to the disqualifications appear to be part of this ongoing campaign.


Early this morning, Venezuelans started queuing to vote in local elections for state governors and regional and municipal legislators. Turnout is expected to be high but it is a cloudy day on many states.

Over 5000 candidates will contest 603 elections for 22 state governors, 328 mayors, 233 state legislative councilors and a range of other local positions.

17 million Venezuelans will have the opportunity to vote in these elections. The elections will be the 14th set of national votes held since 1998.

The final outcomes clearly show that most populated states would be under the control of the local opposition. This shows a tendency in Venezuelans political preferences.

The opposition is leading in urban canters while the government is turning towards the rural areas. In addition, the opposition has taken almost all local authorities posts in Caracas.

Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council, has just issued the first official result of Venezuela’s state and municipal elections. After receiving reports of over 60 % of the counting by electoral juntas of the votes, results did not show a clear victory for the Chavez’s candidates in meaningful posts. Seventeen governorships remain under official control though.

However, the opposition won at traditional opposition place of Zulia and Nueva Esparta. It also regains control over Miranda state and Caracas Mayoral post. Later reports showed that the opposition also won at two more states: Carabobo and Tachira.

The opposition came divided to the elections and suffer major set backs in the following States: Aragua, Amazonas, Anzoategui, Apure, Barinas, Bolivar, Cojedes, Delta Amacuro, Falcon, Guarico, Lara, Yaracuy, Merida, Monagas, Portuguesa, Sucre, Trujillo y Vargas.

The governing PSUV recognized the victory by the opposition and promised to continue with his political socialist project.

Turnout - over 65,49% of the electorate universe -was rather high for local election historical standards in Venezuela.

This turnout shows the renewed interest and enthusiasm on politics. In addition it demonstrated the trust of Venezuelans over their electoral systems. International observers have also hailed the technical facilities and flawless outcome of the elections.

As President Chavez took it to heart to win this elections, their result are to be interpreted as a lukewarm sign for the extension of his tenure in power beyond 2013. Chavez would now need to devote much energy to oppose hostile opponents at the local level in Caracas and within his own party. Would be heirs of his leadership could turn dangerous for his remaining time in government.

The world financial crisis and deficient management of his policies could create havoc in the near future. It is up to his administration to govern with less money and more focused social aims.

The opposition would now need to analyze defeat and envision the more democratic selection of its candidates. Unlike the governing PSUV, the opposition parties did not celebrate internal elections to choose their candidates; on the contrary. They appointed candidates by maneuvering politics, internal struggles and negotiations among few leaders.

During an International Press Conference on Monday night at Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clarifies his stand on reelection. Chavez rejected suggestions that he would personally initiate the Constitutional mechanism to call for a new referendum on the extension of his tenure in power. Chavez is barred to do it again during his current constitutional term. However, a new Referendum on his mandate extension beyond 2012 could be called by the governing party, PSUV, or the Venezuelan people themselves, Chavez said. Such move is feared by both local and international opposition.

During the Press Conference, Chavez confronted CNN anchor Patricia Janiot for having taken his declarations out of context and misinforming the audience. Janiot had informed on CNN that Chavez would take tanks on the street if his party, PSUV, failed at local elections.

He also answered the question about the president Obama and said that the new leader had good intentions but in the context of right intolerable groups in the U.S. may not be able to fulfill its promises and that also might risk that USA killed as he they had done with other presidents.

He also said that oil prices should be located in a band between 80 and 100 dollars, and the urgency of a bank of the countries of OPEC, but that if it was not possible to organize that bank then what Venezuela would begin to promote only with Iran.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says that his socialist party could seek to amend the constitution to provide unlimited presidential rule.

Following promising results for his left-wing party from state elections, Chavez said on Monday he would not personally promote such a reform which would allow him to run for reelection in 2012. "It's the people's right (to decide on the issue). We'll see if the people use this right, and if all the country approves it or not, if there is a referendum," he said. "I've said I'm not going to introduce or ask for any constitutional reform regarding presidential reelection. What I can't avoid is if someone else does it," the Venezuelan leader added.

The remarks come a day after Sunday's vote where the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 17 states out of 22, polling a sweeping 95.67% of votes counted nationally, with Chavez's brother, Adan, winning the governor's race in his home state of Barinas.

Chavez hailed the Venezuelan people's decisive participation after the National Electoral Council published its first report on Monday, describing it as 'a signal to boost the Bolivarian Revolution started in this South American country in 1999'. "This has been a special success of the PSUV, but the victory is also of all Venezuela, which ratified its democratic triumph and honored the National Constitution," Chavez stated. "From February 2, I have four more years of government…I'm going to speed up the pace in these four years to carry out the Bolivarian socialist project," he said.

Election chief Tibisay Lucena said on Sunday 23, that the opposition had won the five most populous states: Miranda, Zulia, Carabobo, Tachira as well as Nueva Esparta. The Caracas mayor's office also shifts to the opposition.

Some 65.45% of almost 17 million eligible voters turned out at the polls to choose 22 governors, 328 mayors and 233 heads of regional councils for four-year terms.

What this indicates is that the process of voting has favored the president Chavez that has become an autocrat with the total political power.

The old political parties (AD, COPEI and MAS) were ultimately discredited and disappear from the political scene.

The opposition has been unable to successfully rebuild all their matches and then the emergence of new political groups such as: First Justice, New Time, Emerging Vision, Copei renovated and refurbished AD, but in a climate of intolerance and confrontation have been organized with the support of Young Leaders and with the support of academic leaders.

But these new and youth parties have been unable to reach the groundwork for lack of resources, which if they've been able to make the party formed by President Chavez who has had a lot of money to penetrate almost all the spaces of power that is closer to the voter population.

The success of these new groups is evident as they have been able to win in major urban cities of the country and especially in the city of Caracas that is the geographical area with the largest number of inhabitants.

That is, President Hugo Chavez's opponents made important gains in Venezuela's local elections, capturing the Caracas mayor's office and five of the most populous and important states.

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