A near-complete list of political parties are due to participate in this Sunday’s “mega-elections,” in which 3,082 public officers, including 23 state governors, 335 local mayors, 253 regional legislators and 2,471 local councillors, are to be chosen.
The ballot, which is the twenty-seventh since 1998, sees hard-right forces backtrack on their insurrectional tactics and return to the electoral path. It is the first time that nearly all political parties have participated since 2017, with partial boycotts marring the three elections since.
The race between the four main blocs (government, left, moderate right and hard-right) will provide a fascinating insight into the current balance of forces and could open a new chapter in the country’s democratic history.
Venezuelanalysis brings you this concise guide to the electoral process while highlighting some of the more interesting races to keep an eye on.
Who votes? 21.2 million people are registered, up 500,000 from the 2020 parliamentary elections. Foreigners resident in Venezuela can vote, but Venezuelans living abroad cannot.
Who will be elected? The “mega-elections” are correctly named. In total, a massive 70,244 candidates have signed up, with an average of 23 candidates per post. Governors and mayors are chosen through first-past-the-post systems while 60% of legislators and councillors are assigned through the D’Hondt proportional representation list method and 40% through first-past-the-post circumscription votes. All posts hold office for four years.
What powers do officers have? Most of Venezuela’s powers are centralized. However, governors and mayors control a range of (partial or complete) issues, especially in public services. These include water, education, policing, healthcare, trash collection and roadway maintenance. They are also partially responsible for executing and coordinating federal policies, including social missions or housing. Regional and local legislative branches approve and oversee the governors’ and mayors’ budgets, respectively, as well as dictating local laws. Recent years have also seen the government transfer state assets to regional instances who have then turned to the private sector under so-called “strategic alliances.”
Who currently controls regional and local authorities? Pro-government parties swept previous regional and local elections in 2017 and 2018, respectively, winning nineteen governorships (all bar Táchira, Mérida, Anzoátegui and Nueva Esparta states) and 300 of the 335 mayoralties. Likewise, the ruling party and allies won the overwhelming majority of regional legislators and local councillors, as much of the opposition boycotted the process.
Are Venezuelan elections fair? Yes! People can vote from 7am to 6pm (unless electoral authorities extend the period) with just their identification card and fingerprint. The system uses electronic touchscreen machines and paper backup is also produced allowing for audits of the electronic tallies. Postal votes are not allowed, but Venezuela has one of the highest number of voting centres per capita in the world, as well as a quick voting process. The on-the-day system has been repeatedly described as free, fair and transparent by specialists.
What are the voters’ options? There are 111 political parties running, 37 of them national and 74 regional or local. The national parties are largely grouped in four coalitions, with some smaller parties running independent candidates.
Firstly, the government-dominated PSUV+ bloc (ruling PSUV plus Somos Venezuela, PODEMOS, UPV, ORA, MEP, APC and Supreme Court-imposed ad hoc leaderships of Tupamaro and PPT after critical leaderships were replaced last year) is fielding a combined set of candidates. Governor and mayor candidates were selected through primary elections in July and August. The process had some accusations or irregularities and last-minute changes, but drew a reported 3.5 million turnout. Though a number of grassroots candidates ran in the primaries, more established figures ended up securing the most important spots on the ticket.
To the left of the PSUV+ bloc is the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR), which brings together a unified list of candidates from a range of parties, social movements, and trade unions. After 2020’s inaugural rupture from the PSUV+ bloc, APR candidates are once again being fielded on the Communist Party (PCV) ticket. Their candidates were selected by regional coalitions, often through popular assemblies.
Center-right and right-wing anti-government forces remain largely fragmented, with more radical sectors led by previous members of Democratic Action, Popular Will, Justice First and A New Era parties running on the dusted off MUD ticket. While leaders like Henry Ramos Allup and Henrique Capriles have fully backed participation, self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó has largely ignored the vote as he looks to extend his “interim government,” but has cautiously endorsed those running. Candidate selection, either by national leaderships or primary processes, had its share of controversy between accusations of “fraud” and complaints that on-the-ground activists were sidelined in favor of veteran figures.
Smaller center-right parties, including Progressive Advance, Hope for Change, Venezuela First, Prociudadanos and the Supreme Court-imposed ad-hoc leaderships of Democratic Action, COPEI, and Popular Will have also joined forces to run as part of the Democratic Alliance. These parties will run on their own individual tickets but votes will be tallied together at the end.
When are results expected? Partial results are normally announced by the National Electoral Council (CNE) the same evening, with more local races called during the course of the night and the following days. The sheer size and complexity of this process, however, may delay results slightly this time round.
Will there be international observers present? Yes, more than 300! The European Union is sending nearly 100 observers after rejecting invitations to do so every election since 2006, and they will join a host of multilateral bodies including the United Nations and the Carter Center on the ground for both campaigning, audits and election day itself. The Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CEELA) will likewise be present alongside scores of independent journalists, electoral experts, politicians and academics.
What is the expected international reaction? Given the participation of the Washington-backed hard right, EU international observers, and newly-appointed electoral authorities last year, there may be a change of tune from the US, EU and their allies after having repeatedly cried fraud on past occasions (without presenting evidence). However, history shows that US recognition of the elections is conditioned on how well their candidates fare on the day. Ongoing (albeit halted) negotiations between Caracas and the US-backed opposition, as well as improved relations with Brussels, however, suggest that better conditions are in place for more complete international recognition.
How has campaigning gone? One of the issues visible across the board during the three campaigning weeks has been an effort to counter the high levels of abstention witnessed in recent years. It is hoped that a more complete ballot will play a role in convincing voters to participate.
For its part, the PSUV+ bloc has focused campaigning on denouncing the blockade’s negative impact on services, especially fuel supply. The pro-government coalition also looked to tout signs of economic recovery, with inflation reaching single digits for the first time in four years and renewed expectations of foreign investment. PSUV+ candidates will rely on the fine-tuned electoral “machinery” to win the day. Its campaign slogan has been “Venezuela has what it takes.”
In contrast, alternative blocs on both the left and right looked to capitalize on discontent and highlight issues such as corruption and low wages in a bid to boost their strength in regional and local offices.
The APR has focused on the impact of what it calls “the government’s rightward shift” on the people, as well as the fight against corruption, misuse of public funds by establishment candidates, and a general reconstitution of worker and campesino rights rolled back by the current administration. The bloc has decried continued persecution against its candidates (including a disproportionally high 47% of all CNE disqualifications) and media censorship of its proposals. Its campaign slogan was “There is an alternative.”
The Democratic Alliance, while also highlighting issues such as corruption, tried to distance itself from hardline rightwing factions which have endorsed sanctions and boycotted electoral processes for so long. While criticizing the government, it does not question its legitimacy or refer to it as a “dictatorship.” The coalition’s candidates have touted a bigger private sector role in the economy and a return to conservative values during campaigning.
A shared line between the Democratic Alliance and the returning MUD was blaming the local and central governments for “destroying” the country. Both blocs brought up past and present experiences in office as evidence of different administration models, and have largely used ongoing fuel shortages and common distribution irregularities to their advantage. Having won a majority in the 2015 legislative elections, the hardline coalition will be hoping to rally its base once more. Nevertheless, the opposition’s flip-flopping and infighting has led to the rise of new/independent candidates, especially from the business sector, who are looking to profit on disenchantment with both the government and the MUD.
All parties have been present in the sixteen CNE-led audits during and prior to the campaign. Right-wing opposition candidates have received ample airtime on public and private media alongside PSUV+ candidates.
Some races to watch
The last-minute decision of US-backed sectors to run on the MUD ticket will effectively split the already depressed opposition vote, with more moderate sectors working hard to replace its hardline rivals as the main anti-government force. One of their leading figures, former presidential candidate and two-time governor Henri Falcón, will hope to win in Lara once again, for example. In contrast, the MUD will look to regain some of its former strongholds, such as Zulia state, as well as capitalize on a close contest in the past elections in resource-rich Bolívar state. Current bastions such as east Caracas municipalities should be safely held.
The divided challenges mean PSUV+ candidates have the inside track in most races. One figure to keep an eye on is Héctor Rodríguez, Miranda state incumbent who is seen as a future presidential candidate, while Luis José Marcano, Freddy Bernal and Jehyson Guzmán will look to win back the oil-rich Anzoátegui, border Táchira and agriculturally important Mérida states, respectively. The latter three were appointed “protectors” in the opposition-held states, with Maduro announcing that the posts will be eliminated after the November vote.
Some of the most politically interesting races may be seen in more isolated areas which continue to suffer from deteriorated public services and living conditions. In many of these, while PSUV+ candidates are expected to win, the ruling party might face voter migration to its leftist challengers. One such case is Portuguesa state, where APR forces are backing former governess Antonia Múñoz. Following an underwhelming display in the December 2020 legislative elections, the left-wing coalition will be looking to build its support base for longer-term political objectives.
Equally, there are thriving contests in Carabobo state, where flamboyant pro-business PSUV incumbent Rafael Lacava faces challenges from popular former-mayor Vicencio Scarano (MUD), former presidential candidate Javier Bertucci (Democratic Alliance), and trade unionist Ricardo Adrian (APR).
Caracas’s Libertador municipality should be another fierce battlefield after incumbent PSUV Mayor Erika Farías was sidelined by her party following widespread criticism of her administration. PSUV+ candidate Carmen Meléndez is the favorite, with her main challenge coming from Tomás Guanipa (MUD), who represents the more extremist hard-right elements. With Pedro José Rojas (Democratic Alliance) and Rafael Uzcátegui (APR) having quiet campaigns, independent Antonio Ecarri has also emerged as a dark horse on a “pro-education” campaign.
Other mayoral races to keep an eye on are in Monagas’ Libertador municipality, where Régulo Reina (APR) is once again vying for office after being disqualified following his 2017 victory, as well as Lara’s Simón Planas municipality where anti-establishment communard Ángel Prado is expected to win on the PSUV+ ticket.
Turnout will be key this Sunday. It is largely expected that a combination of emigration, general apathy caused by increasingly tough day-to-day conditions and disenchantment with the political class will rule the day, as it did in 2020 when only 30% of the electorate participated.
Opposition divisions will likely lead to a PSUV+ majority in most sectors, especially in first-past-the-post governor and mayor races. However, there might be a more colored map than on past occasions in legislators and councillors following electoral changes which favor greater representation of smaller parties. The Maduro government is likewise hoping that an increased turnout and a more plural political map will be a blow against extremist factions and that more ample recognition can pave the way for sanctions relief.
If the right can renew electoral trust in its leaders after years of back-and-forth strategies and successfully capitalize on widespread discontent, as it did in 2015, there may yet be some important changes. Political forces and leaders will also be jockeying for position ahead of the 2024 presidential cycle, the next scheduled election in the country. However, if participation is down, the well-oiled PSUV+ electoral mobilization machine may prove too much for their opponents, which have struggled in campaigning with tough on-the-ground conditions.