Venezuela's Elections of November 23: A Briefing

In
recent years, media coverage of Venezuelan
elections has been misleading, repeating claims made by opponents of
the democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez. This
briefing outlines some key facts concerning the forthcoming election,
previous elections, and the Venezuelan government's democratic mandate.

By Venezuela Information Centre
Topics
Short URL

On 23 November, Venezuela will hold elections for state governors and regional and municipal legislators.

In
recent years, much of the British media coverage of Venezuelan
elections has been misleading, repeating claims made by opponents of
the democratically elected government of Hugo Chávez. These claims have
their origins in false allegations made in the Venezuelan media, which
is overwhelmingly owned by the political opposition. Already, a number
of inaccurate claims have been made about these elections. (1)

This
briefing outlines some key facts concerning the forthcoming election,
previous elections and the Venezuelan government's democratic mandate.

FACTS ABOUT THE FORTHCOMING ELECTIONS

Over
5000 candidates will contest 603 elections for 22 state governors, 328
mayors, 233 state legislative councillors 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 Chávez was first elected as President. Hugo Chávez 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 Chávez‘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 Organisation
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. Chávez'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 Chávez 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
recognise this fact.

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

A TRANSPARENT AND INCLUSIVE ELECTORAL PROCESS
Venezuela's
electoral system has undergone significant improvements under the
Chávez 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 whom 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 centres 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% computerised. 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 organisations 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.(2)

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 that "the general conclusion of the observers was that the
voting machines seemed very reliable."(3)

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 neighbourhoods 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 Centres 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 voter which 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 Chávez 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 Chávez. 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.(4)

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

These are:
1. December 1998: Hugo Chávez 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, Chávez supporters
won a large majority of seats.
4. December 1999: Referendum on whether to adopt the new constitution, won by Chávez
supporters with 71.9 per cent of the vote.
5. July 2000: Presidential election held under the new constitution, won by Hugo Chávez with an
increased majority of 59.76 per cent of the vote.
6. July 2000: Election of the National Assembly, Chávez 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 councillors for local municipalities and local parishes.
9. August 2004: A national referendum called by the opposition on whether or not to remove
Chávez from power, won by President Chávez with 59.3 per cent of the vote.
10. October 2004: Local and regional elections throughout the country, Chávez 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. Chávez'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 Chávez 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
Russián, 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 Chávez. 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 Chávez 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.(5)

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

* This briefing was
produced by the Venezuela information Centre (VIC). The Venezuela
Information Centre seeks to raise awareness of the advances being made
in democracy and social progress in Venezuela, and to build support for
Venezuela's right to determine its own future. VIC can provide further
information on the situation in Venezuela and representatives are
available for comment. To contact VIC e-mail


info@vicuk.org
This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
or telephone 0207 250 0132.

FOOTNOTES:

1.
Examples with regards to this election include ‘Hugo Chavez faces
toughest political test ... against his ex-wife' (‘Times Online,'
November 17,
2008)
and ‘Hugo Chávez effect finally wears off in Venezuela and around the
world' (Vanessa Neumann, 'Daily Telegraph' online, November 19
2008.)
2. See http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=2&t=83946&hl=cne&s=7b2...
3. See European Parliament report: 'Election Observation of Parliamentary Elections in Venezuela', 2nd - 6th December 2005.
4. See http://www.latinobarometro.org/docs/INFORME_LATINOBAROMETRO_2008.pdf
5 For full details see the briefing ‘The Facts About the List of ‘Banned Candidates' in Venezuela' at
http://www.vicuk.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=306&Itemi...