Bogota, January 24 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) - In a surprise announcement, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly (ANC) has confirmed that presidential elections expected for late 2018 will now take place no later than the end of April.
“The Constituent [Assembly] has agreed to convoke presidential elections for the first four month period of 2018,” confirmed ANC delegate and long-time Chavista politician Diosdado Cabello Tuesday.
According to Cabello, the move is aimed at boosting the beleaguered national government’s legitimacy in the international arena in light of an increasingly severe economic boycott led by the United States.
“If the world wants to apply sanctions, then we call elections! Our people have the right to decide their own destiny,” said Cabello.
Earlier in the week the European Union formalised its decision to follow the example set by the US and Canada by sanctioning seven Venezuelan top government officials.
The ANC decision means that voters will soon head to the polls for the fourth time since July 2017, and comes after the constituent delegate and head of the polling company Hinterlaces Oscar Schemel revealed that 72% of Venezuelans favoured bringing elections forward to the beginning of the year.
The country is currently grappling with a four year long deep economic crisis, marked by food and medicine shortages and triple digit inflation, in addition to a two year stand-off between the opposition-held legislative branch and the socialist executive.
Despite the difficult conditions facing citizens, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) defied expectations in regional elections in October 2017 when it won 17 out of 23 state governorships.
The defeat caused further divisions in the country’s already fractured opposition, leading it to boycott mayoral elections in December and another electoral clean sweep for the government.
Nonetheless, several leaders in the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), indicated Wednesday they would run a united presidential candidate in the upcoming general elections, despite criticising the ANC’s snap announcement.
“We all need to show the greatest unity to rescue Venezuela from the leaders that want to consolidate themselves in power and not allow democracy and the free vote in our country,” said National Assembly President and leader of First Justice, Julio Borges.
For his part, the leader of the Democratic Action party Ramos Allup suggested in a television interview with Globovision that the MUD would likely hold primary elections over the next six weeks to decide its final candidate.
“All the political organisations, even possible aspirants outside of the political parties of the MUD, are betting on the holding of primary elections to choose the presidential candidate,” he said.
“It’s the most democratic way,” he continued.
In addition to the the usual faces of the opposition, Venezuelan media has hinted that multi-billionaire business-owner Lorenzo Mendoza could stand as an outsider for the coalition. Other potential candidates include Allup, and the President of Democratic Advance, Henri Falcon, who has also stated he will put himself forward.
Meanwhile Chavismo’s candidate will be presidential incumbent, Nicolas Maduro, who confirmed that he will seek re-election Wednesday during a rally with transport sector workers.
“Brothers and sisters, I will not let you down. I assume the presidential candidacy for the 2019-2025 period, and I swear before you brother workers that I will be the candidate of the Venezuelan working class,” he said.
Despite his low approval ratings, which have hovered around 20%, Reuters has stated that Maduro is still favourite to win the elections, given the fractured nature of Venezuela’s opposition.
Registration with the CNE
The snap election announcement comes as several opposition parties face a re-registration process with the National Electoral Council (CNE) to ensure their ability to field a presidential ticket.
In December 2017, the ANC announced that parties which previously boycotted mayoral elections would be required to re-register with electoral authorities in order to maintain their legal status. The five political organisations obliged to re-register are the MUD, Democratic Action, First Justice, the Popular Will and the Union and Understanding Party (PUENTE).
Although the move was reported in the mainstream media as a ban on opposition parties at the time, the majority of the organisations have since informed the public that they intend to take part in the registration process.
According to comments made by CNE head rector Tania D’Amelio earlier this week, First Justice, Democratic Action and the MUD, have all confirmed their participation, while the Popular Will and PUENTE appear to have opted out.
The re-registration procedure is due to be held between January 27-28 and will require party activists collect signatures from 0.5 percent of the electorate in twelve states of their choosing.
“The political organisations that requested to participate in this process and which fulfil the requirements of the aforementioned signature testaments will be considered legitimate, in agreement with the Law for Political Parties, Public Meetings and Demonstrations,” confirmed D’Amelio on Twitter.
Las OFP que solicitaron participar en este proceso y cumplan con el requisito de las manifestaciones de voluntad antes indicado, se considerarán legitimadas, de acuerdo con lo establecido en la Ley de Partidos Políticos, Reuniones Públicas y Manifestaciones.
— Tania D´amelio (@taniadamelio) January 23, 2018
All three political organisations previously carried out the re-registration process successfully in April 2017 and went on to participate in October regionals.
Meanwhile the call for early elections in Venezuela has been vehemently rejected by the Lima Group – a coalition of more than a dozen Latin American governments hostile to Venezuela – despite it being a key demand of the country’s opposition for the past two years.
In a statement released Tuesday, the group demanded “presidential elections called with adequate anticipation, with the participation of all Venezuelan political actors, and with all the guarantees which correspond to them, including independent international observers”.
The group’s stance was immediately backed by staunch anti-government critic and Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro.
“We salute the declaration of the Lima Group in view of the new electoral farce announced by the regime in Venezuela. To exit the crisis it is necessary to hold free elections, without prohibitions, with a credible system, guarantees for all, international observation, and without political prisoners. Anything else is dictatorship #OASwithVenezuela,” he tweeted.
Saludamos Declaración Grupo d Lima ante nueva farsa electoral anunciada x régimen #Vzla. Xa salir d crisis hay q hacer elecciones libres, sin proscritos, c/sistema electoral creíble, garantías xa tod@s, observación Intl y sin presos políticos. Otra cosa es +dictadura #https://t.co/kmy5ZjNSS5"https://t.co/kmy5ZjNSS5January 24, 2018
Last weekend Almagro categorically rejected plans to hold presidential elections in Venezuela in 2018, alleging that any future electoral contest would be fraudulent.
For its part, the United States government also lambasted the move, with US Vice President Mike Pence hitting out at Maduro as a “dictator” and calling the snap elections “undemocratic, unconstitutional and globally opposed” on Twitter Wednesday.
The announcement has also seen the Mexican government pull out of its accompanying role in talks being held between the Venezuelan government and opposition in the Dominican Republic. Nonetheless the Venezuelan government has defended the decision to bring elections forward.
“We urgently need a manual to understand the opposition and its imperial bosses,” tweeted Cabello Tuesday.
“They spent years demanding presidential elections be brought forward, and now the truth has hit them in the face: elections before April 30. Run nits, a comb is coming!” he stated.