Venezuela’s National Electoral Council: Supporting the Venezuelan Opposition Primary Elections

This article explores how over the past decade Venezuela’s National Electoral Council has transformed Venezuela’s electoral system to the point where the opposition who spent years trying to discredit the country’s national electoral body now ask it to organize their own internal elections.

By Venezuela en Noticias / MINCI

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National Electoral Council Logo (La Patilla).
National Electoral Council Logo (La Patilla).
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The Venezuelan opposition is preparing for the intense electoral calendar 2012-2013. For the first time in the country’s history, many of Venezuela’s opposition parties will face each other in the February 12 primaries to elect single candidates for the presidential elections of 2012 and subsequent governor, state legislative council and mayoral elections, in an attempt to bring together more voters and face the coalition of forces supporting President Chavez.

In this process, something has gone unnoticed by the media: that the opposition parties and candidates have chosen the National Electoral Council (CNE) as the institution to provide technical support their primary elections, despite having spent years trying to discredit it.

The support provided by the CNE to the opposition primaries responds to a specific request by the opposition parties, including custody and transport of electoral materials by the military as well as ballot printing. Likewise, the CNE’s support will also include audits of poll books, software of voting machines, software for counting votes, and infrastructure of the electoral platform. Over 7,691 tables will be installed to receive votes in 3,707 polling stations across the country’s 335 municipalities.

The website of the Primary Elections Commission (CEP), which organizes the primary elections, states that the electoral process is reliable thanks to the CNE’s technical support. It also recognizes that “The CNE provides technical support and facilitates the use of voting machines, electoral material, and training of members of the voting table in coordination with the Primary Elections Commission”.

Regarding the process of organizing the opposition primaries, CNE president Tibisay Lucena highlighted the intense process of dialogue with all political organizations, saying that it is the first time that  “we began to meet a year in advance” with political organizations to coordinate the election process.

The support of the CNE has been seen by Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), as “an excellent sign of democratic institutions in the country.”

The CNE and Internal Party Elections

The CNE also supports the elections of political parties’ internal authorities. Since 2008 the CNE has organized five internal election processes for different political parties in the country,  including those supporting the government.

In July 2011, the party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), held, with the support of the CNE, the internal elections in which Leopoldo López was elected as National Coordinator. Lopez thanked the 3,000 CNE officials and 6,00 military members of “Plan Republic”, which are deployed across the country to ensure the security of the electoral process. 120,000 voters participated in Voluntad Popular’s internal election.

The CNE also held elections to elect candidates of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for the elections of mayors and governors in 2008, and for the election of candidates and political organizations of MUD coalition opposition parties for the parliamentary elections of 2010.

Similarly, the opposition party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), (Movement to Socialism), in collaboration with the CNE, expects to hold its internal elections on March 25, 2012.

Greater Participation

In Venezuela elections have become a day-to-day and transcendental event ever since they have  been held on a regular basis and have had an impact on major domestic decisions. In this sense, the dynamic electoral schedule of the last decade and increased participation levels stand out.

Venezuela has seen 16 elections in the last 12 years [since Hugo Chavez was elected Venezuelan President in 1998]. In contrast, in the four decades before President Chavez was elected, the country only held 15 elections.

By the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013, the country will have witnessed an intense electoral agenda. On October 7, 2012 presidential elections will be held, on December 16, 2012, Venezuelans will elect governors and state legislative councils, while elections to designate municipal authorities, with their respective municipal, district and metropolitan councils, will be held on April 14, 2013.

The opposition will hold primary elections on February 12, 2012 to choose their representatives among a total of 1,108 candidates: 5 ​​for president, 64 for governors and 1,038 for mayors.

Even more significant than simply increasing the number of elections is the exponential improvement of guarantees regarding the right to vote and the transparency of the electoral process. According to  data from the CNE, expansion, registration and update has made it possible to reduce the  non-registered voting-age population from 20% in 1998 to 5% in 2011. Furthermore, the creation of inclusive voting logistics architecture has made it possible to increase the number of 8,278 polling stations in 2000 to 14,025 in 2011, and the number of voting tables from 7,000 in 2000 to 38,236 in 2011.

All of this has significantly increased the number of people on the electoral register. On October 31, 2011, 18,156,114 Venezuelans were registered on the electoral register, compared with 12,260,895 in 2003.

In recent elections, voter turnout has significantly increased in comparison to previous elections. In the 2006 presidential elections, for instance, 75% of voters exercised their right to vote, while in 2000, 56.31% of those registered voted. In the 2010 legislative elections, 66% of  voters exercised their suffrage, while in the 2000 legislative elections 56.1% of people registered voted (the 2005 legislative elections are not taken into account here due to the illegal boycott of the opposition against those parliamentary elections).

These increasing levels of participation are in keeping with the findings of the Chilean-based Latinobarómetro regional survey, whose latest edition confirms that Venezuela ranks first in the region as the country which most supports democracy over any other form of government, at 77%.

Culture of Fraud Defeated

Since 2003, Venezuela has undergone a drastic process of improvements to its electoral system, including the upgrading, updating and modernization of the electoral registration and infrastructure.

Voting in Venezuela is now a fully automated process, as voters can exercise their right to vote through electronic voting machines that print a paper receipt, which confirms the choice made. Thereafter, the receipt is deposited in the ballot box and 53% of the machines are manually audited to compare their results with those ballot receipts.

According to the CNE, the best technical and political guarantee for the transparency of the voting  process is that audits are carried out by technical representatives appointed by political parties participating in the process.

International Organizations Support CNE Management of Elections

The Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU) and the Carter Center have backed up the electoral results in Venezuela and the role played by the CNE.

In September 2011, when the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza was asked about the 2006 presidential elections in Venezuela, where the OAS sent an observation mission, he made the following remarks: “I can tell you that we did not have any objection; it was fair” and “it has a strong electoral system; it is very good system from the technical point of view”.

After those elections, the EU mission wrote the following about the CNE in its final report: “Thanks to its constant dialogue policy with political forces and social movements that work in the electoral field, the CNE managed to create sufficient conditions so that the pro-opposition parties agreed to participate in the 2006 Presidential Election.

The Carter Center, in its report on the August 15, 2004 recall referendum, assured the following: “The referendum on Aug. 15, 2004 rejected the petition to revoke the mandate of President Hugo Chavez. The observation of The Carter Center mission confirms the results announced by the National Electoral Council announced Wednesday, in which the "No" vote to recall President Chavez  received 59 percent and the "Yes" vote received 41 percent of the votes cast. The Carter Center concludes that the automated machines worked well and the voting   results do reflect the will of the people,” and “the panel only concludes that there is no statistical evidence of fraud based on the reports we have examined.”

In conclusion, Venezuela’s CNE has become a tool for transformation and political struggle and it has  managed to increase the Venezuelans’ trust in democracy. As noted by the president of the CNE, the strongest political indicator of achievements after having automated and modernized the electoral system "is the fact that after close results, like the ones obtained in the 2007 referendum on the constitutional reform or the 2010 parliamentary elections, all parties have accepted and respected the results and decisions of the Electoral Power.”

Edited by Venezuelanalysis.com