Municipal Elections in Venezuela: All You Need to Know

This Sunday, the stage is set for a multitude of inter-Chavista contests. Can smaller leftist parties successfully challenge PSUV hegemony?

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20.7 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote in Sunday's municipal council elections
20.7 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote in Sunday's municipal council elections. (Venezuelanalysis)

This December 9, Venezuela is holding its fifth election in 18 months. This time around, local councillors are due to be elected in the 335 municipal chambers nationwide.

Venezuelanalysis brings you this quick guide which explains everything you need to know about the elections, as well as highlighting some key contests taking place across the country.

Who is voting? There are 20.7 million citizens on the electoral register for this election, which includes all Venezuelans and all foreign residents in Venezuela.

Who is to be elected? 2,459 councillors in the 335 municipalities of the country. To be a candidate for councillor, citizens must have been resident in the municipality for at least three years.

For how long are they elected? Four years.

What do councillors do? The councillors sit on the municipal chamber, which oversees and regulates the functioning of local government. This includes overseeing the organs of public power in the municipality (police forces, garbage collection, etc.), as well as municipal planning (traffic control, squares, etc), and serving as a link between public powers and communities. They are also in charge of the municipal budget, working closely alongside the mayor in this respect. Their specific responsibilities are outlined in the Law of Public Municipal Power (Article 95 for example).

Will there be international observers/accompaniment for this election? Yes, including representatives from the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CEELA) present at every audit of the process.

Who currently holds the majority of councillors? In the last municipal councillor elections in 2013, pro-government forces won a majority in 256 of the municipal chambers, while the opposition bloc won majorities in 81 entities. Participation was 58 percent. December 2017 saw mayoral elections, leaving the elections to the accompanying municipal chamber elections until 2018. In last December’s elections, which important sectors of the opposition boycotted, the ruling PSUV party won 306 mayorships, whilst the opposition won 25, with 47 percent participation.

Which parties are participating? All of the pro-government parties are participating (PSUV, PCV, Tupamaro, PPT, SV, UPV, ORA, MEP, Alianza para el Cambio), sometimes with a unified candidate, at other times with separate candidates. For the opposition, Progressive Advance, COPEI, MAS, Soluciones, CMC, MEV, Hope Movement for Venezuela, ACP, Lapiz, and the Force for Change are also taking part, as is the ultra-left UPP89 party. Leading right-wing parties Democratic Action, First Justice, Popular Will, and A New Era opted not to complete their legal registration as political organisations, thus making it impossible for them to participate. Some of their members are, however, running with the backing of other parties.

What is the voting system to be used? Unlike other Venezuelan elections which employ a simple first-past-the-post system, municipal elections involve a complex mixed system of votes per list (685 councillors) and votes per cirunscription or nominal votes (1,703 councillors). Nominal candidates are elected by a simple majority, whilst list candidates are elected by proportional representation. Voters in areas with registered indigenous populations will have an extra vote for their indigenous councillor (69 councillors). All ballot cards can be seen in advance here. As usual, voting will be electronic, secret, and observed by party political witnesses at every center.

When can we expect the results? General results are normally announced by the National Electoral Council (CNE) Sunday evening, with more specific results from each locality reported in the course of the night and early the next morning in some rare cases.

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A standard ballot card, in this case for Acarigua Parish of Paez Municipality of Portuguesa State, where voters will be asked to make seven selections between list and nominal candidates
A standard ballot card, in this case for Acarigua Parish of Paez Municipality of Portuguesa State, where voters will be asked to make seven selections between list and nominal candidates. (CNE)

Some key races

Worker struggles and the PCV strategy

With some Communist candidates running alone and others running with the backing of other Chavista parties of the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP), the PCV has taken the opportunity to challenge ruling party candidates in a record number of regions this election, limiting the PSUV-PCV alliance to a reduced handful of municipalities across the country.

“Under the difficult conditions in which these elections take place, we call on the Venezuelan people to vote for the PCV, as working class reference,” stated Perfecto Abreu Nieves, member of the PCV Political Bureau in a press conference on Monday.

“Alongside communal, campesino and indigenous sectors we can build a new correlation of forces that will put forward revolutionary measures in the economic area,” he added.

The PCV has centered its campaign on demands for effective economic policies empowering workers and campesinos which break with the at times reformist and elitist economic tendencies of the government. It also comes amidst public denouncements by the PCV of the government’s noncompliance with a PSUV-PCV electoral accord reached in February.

One region to pay attention to is oil-rich Monagas state in the east of Venezuela. Following a bitter electoral dispute with the PSUV in last December's mayoral elections, the PCV has opted to break with the GPP and field its own candidates in all of the state’s 13 municipalities. In December 2017 PCV candidate Regulo “Pavon” Reina was denied his electoral victory after the National Constituent Assembly ruled (post-electorally) that he did not have permission to run for mayor, awarding the office to another candidate, much to the fury of the popular grassroots leader and his supporters.

In Monagas and nationwide, the PCV are largely backing candidates with popular leadership, who do not necessarily belong to the party rank-and-file, but whose politics are clearly aligned with finding a revolutionary exit to current economic crisis.

A ubiquitous Chavista alternative: The case of the PPT

This Sunday’s election may prove to be a watershed moment insofar as the oft-heralded “perfect alliance,” whereby all Chavista parties back the same candidates, is nowhere to be found. And the reason for this major shift is the PPT (Patria Para Todos / Homeland for All). Barring a handful of municipalities in states such as Amazonas, in every locality where the PPT is fielding candidates, it is going head to head with the PSUV and other GPP parties.*

Contacted by Venezuelanalysis, PPT National Secretary Ilenia Medina revealed that her party “decided several months ago that these elections were an opportunity to advance and deepen the revolution.”

It should be recalled that in the municipal elections of 2017 the PPT had already challenged PSUV-backed candidates, notably by supporting the popular candidate of El Maizal Commune, Angel Prado, in Lara State’s Simon Planas municipality (see below) and former Commerce Minister Eduardo Saman in Caracas’ Libertador municipality. Notably, Saman figures again in the PPT’s current roster for this municipality.

“The PPT does not have its ‘own’ candidates. Rather, we are running in a close alliance with popular power. The PPT and its ticket are a means of struggle,” Medina added.

In adopting this electoral strategy, Medina stressed that the PPT seeks to be consistent with its revolutionary discourse and program. While backing the leadership of Maduro, the PPT voices critiques of the government’s deficient organization and poor execution of measures.

23 de Enero: Battle in the Chavista heartland

The 23 de Enero barrio in Caracas is rightfully considered a historic Chavista stronghold. Chavez used to cast his vote in this militant working class district and his remains rest in the nearby 4F Mountain Barracks that overlooks the capital.

This community is also where we find some of the most advanced political experiences in Venezuela in terms of construction of popular power from the bottom up. One of them is El Panal Commune, which organizes around 10,000 residents.

In the upcoming elections, the community has decided that one of its spokespeople, Robert Longa, should run for a council seat. Combining savvy use of social media with a well-established reputation in revolutionary circles, the communards hope to convince the neighboring communities to support Longa’s candidature, since he is running in a circumscription that extends beyond the barrio.

While Longa is running with the backing of the PCV, ORA, Podemos, and MSV parties, he is confronting a range of other candidates, including those proposed by the PSUV, a third Chavista candidate from the PPT, an ultra-left candidate from the UPP89, as well as three different right- wing candidates.

“We want a council seat so that we have a spokesperson in the municipality. Our goal is to advance in the relocation of markets, and to have distribution centers and exclusive production zones under the control of communes,” Longa told Venezuelanalysis.

Public services are another issue of concern for Caracas residents, with utilities such as water and electricity coming under severe strain in recent times. In this regard, Longa defends the decentralization of these services, passing control of them to the communes.

Finally, communes like El Panal do not see the conquest of space in the state apparatus as a goal in itself. Rather, they see these bodies as something that in the long run has to be replaced by a new, popular power architecture.

“Within a year, we plan to deliver a document to the Constituent Assembly, proposing the elimination of the figure of municipal councillors, so that political commissars from the communes take over as we move towards a [national] confederation of communes,” he added.

Simon Planas: One year on, a new showdown

The municipality of Simon Planas, in Lara State, was a key battleground in the mayoral elections of December 2017.

In an area where the most important political force is, by and large, El Maizal Commune, commune spokesperson Angel Prado was denied victory in the most controversial of circumstances. Despite defeating the PSUV candidate Jean Ortiz by a landslide, running on the PPT ticket, Prado’s votes were awarded to Ortiz. The case generated outrage among Chavista rank-and-file and a lawsuit has made its way to the Supreme Court, but a ruling has yet to materialize nearly a year later.

Nevertheless, El Maizal Commune, a remarkable experience of popular power that we have covered frequently at Venezuelanalysis, has pressed on undeterred. In May, they had one of their members elected to the state legislative council, and on the anniversary of last year’s ballot controversy, the communards are again fielding candidates on the PPT ticket, challenging the PSUV candidate around which other GPP forces have rallied.

“We need to fight for all the spaces of power available. If a city council is hindering the construction of the commune, the people should take over this space and have it contribute to our project,” explained Angel Prado at the “Popular Power and Economic Policy” conference held recently in Caracas.

The commune has also continued to expand its productive capabilities, taking over idle lands and unproductive facilities in their vicinity and looking to establish food distribution networks directly with other organized communities. They now hope that an increased presence in city council, where policies and budgets are decided, will further strengthen their revolutionary project.

Portuguesa State: Chavista battle royale

Portuguesa State is increasingly viewed as a political proving ground for internal struggle within Chavismo. For some years now, it has been the site for “alternative Chavista” candidates to challenge PSUV electoral hegemony with some security, given that right-wing candidates rarely win more than 30 percent of the vote.

This year, the stage is set for a fascinating series of electoral battles pitting local leaders, largely supported by a non-homogenous grouping of the GPP parties (excluding the PSUV), against the candidates of the ruling PSUV. In some municipalities, such as Paez, there are even up to four left-wing candidates on the ballot (one from the PSUV, one from PPT, one from the rest of the GPP, and one from the ultra-left UPP89), offering voters a range of differing revolutionary perspectives to choose from.*

Portuguesa is a strategically important state to the Chavista project, being as it is a highly fertile agricultural region that produces large quantities of rice, plantain, corn, fruit, and vegetables, as well as significant amounts of milk, meat, eggs, chicken, and fish. Portuguesa was also the launchpad for the recent Admirable Campesino March, which bought campesino issues back to the nation’s attention.

Conclusion

This Sunday’s elections are probably some of the most low key in recent memory, with a reduced turnout widely expected, due in part to the limited importance of councillors as well as high emigration rates in recent years.

The fact that some of the main opposition parties chose to remain on the sidelines has led to a blossoming of rival Chavista candidacies. Popular power movements are also seizing the opportunity to conquer more political spaces, despite their frequent alienation from the traditional structures of local state power.

Whether they succeed in delivering a wake-up call to the government, or whether the famed PSUV electoral machine that proved dominant in countless past elections carries the day, remains to be seen.

As always, stay tuned to venezuelanalysis.com and our social media accounts for rolling coverage of the elections, as well as subsequent results and analysis.

Notes

*These breakdowns are based on the ballots available on the CNE website. However, there might have been last-minute alliances and drop outs, but they would not be reflected on the ballots.

Writing by Paul Dobson and Ricardo Vaz. Reporting by Cira Pascual Marquina and editing by Lucas Koerner.