Venezuelan Regional Elections: “To abstain, or not to abstain, that is the question”

Disagreements in the Venezuelan opposition ranks as whether to vote or not in Sunday’s regional elections for state governors, mayors and councils are also confusing the general public. Opposition spokesmen are predicting electoral fraud even before the elections have taken place.

Disagreements in the Venezuelan opposition ranks as whether to vote or not in Sunday’s (31st October) regional elections for state governors, mayors and councils are also confusing the general public. Opposition spokesmen are predicting electoral fraud even before the elections have taken place and on this basis, advising their supporters not to vote, as it is a waste of time. It may be just coincidental that part of the opposition is supporting abstention as a strategy, as did Chávez in the 1994 presidential elections, which had the lowest voter turnout in Venezuelan democratic history.

On the other hand, in states and municipalities that are bastions of the opposition such as Carabobo and Zulia states, or in the well-off municipalities in the east of Caracas such as Baruta and Chacao, there has been no withdrawal of opposition candidates since the pre-electoral polls are favourable for them, and thus spokesmen from this wing of the opposition are calling everyone out to vote.

Basically, if you don´t vote, then don´t complain about the results

The intransigent attitude of the opposition towards the validation of the 15th August referendum result which Chávez won handsomely has been the deciding factor in the refusal of the Carter Center and the OAS not to attend these Regional Elections as international observers. The OAS was fine as long as it played the opposition game of brokering agreements with the government to respect and hold the presidential recall referendum and when Gaviria was attending secret meetings with representatives of the almost defunct Democratic Coordinator But when it took a stand based on hard evidence and ratified the referendum result, they are suddenly “clowns”. The real “clowns” are those still crying “fraud” or “future fraud” when no hard evidence has been produced to prove this contention, other than theories about a Russian hacker and a Japanese satellite being used to change the results, as presented in the Súmate report to the National Electoral Council.

What is the outlook for these Regional elections?

Forecasts vary depending on the government spokesmen, as the opposition has not published any national predictions. William Lara, a member of the Comando Maisanta (the government command set up to get voters out to the electoral centres) for example, is taking a conservative stance, as he is predicting 200 out of 337 municipalities for the government side. César López, a MVR parliamentarian, predicted 300 out of the 337 municipalities in a live TV interview yesterday (Thursday 28th October), and 20 out of the 22 state governorships up for grabs to be won by the government. The fact is that Chávez is fully aware that, in order to advance the social missions that are the cornerstone of his democratic revolution, then these missions will have to be run on a municipal basis for efficiency reasons, as will be the Bolivarian University of Venezuela if it is to penetrate the depths of the population that could never obtain a university place.

Thus, the government coalition needs to win as many municipalities as possible, especially in parts of the country where the dispossessed live and the missions are vital to improve overall quality of life. Coordination from mayor, through the state governor to the Executive is needed, to prevent the missions being sabotaged at local level, and cause resentment in the recipients, almost all of whom are “chavistas”. This is precisely the reason why in his recent speeches up and down the country that Chávez has emphasized a “war to the death” on corruption of local officials and the “importance of quality and efficiency” in the revolution as postulated by Ernesto Guevara.

Potential problems and sabotage on elections day

The Bolivarian Military Front denounced a plan on late night TV that a minority opposition grouping intends to discredit the elections by not depositing the paper receipt in the ballot box after realizing their automated vote. The strategy here is to create a situation whereby the cross check of votes cast via the voting machines, will not tally with the paper receipts in the ballot box, thus creating “electoral fraud”, which the local media can hype up and give reasons to the opposition not to recognize the results.

(My own view is that the opposition will not recognize the results anyway, especially if they lose any of their traditional bastions and more importantly because they have already laid the ground to cry “fraud” well before the 15th August recall referendum.)

The electronic results of one machine chosen at random from each voting centre will be checked against the paper votes cast and deposited in the ballot box. This is one way of safeguarding against any type of electronic fraud being committed.

Other plans afoot and published in the local media is that voters will stay at the voting centres all day and force the opening of all the ballot boxes at the close of the polls, so as to “check for fraud”, even though this has not been authorized by the Elections Council. The idea here is to create chaos, record TV pictures and show the “brutality and human rights violations” of the soldiers of the Republic Plan trying to restore order.

Almost a month ago, one opposition spokesmen proposed throwing the electronic voting machines on the floor as a protest against the “fraud” on elections day!!?? This was one way of protesting. I received a mail talking about a little known organization called the Democratic Front inviting people to revolt or engage in acts of civil disobedience on elections day, due to the “fraud”, and other talk about blocking the main thoroughfares in Caracas so that people could not get to the voting stations – a sort of enforced abstention, if you like.

The Minister of Defence, Jorge García Carneiro, stated in an interview that attempts at disruption or sabotage will be dealt with by arresting the culprits caught red handed.. The last resort left for the opposition is to refuse to relinquish a state governorship or municipality if they lose it – once again due to the “fraud”. Chávez said in his TV programme on Sunday that anyone acting in this way will be arrested and imprisoned.

Democratic commitment

To readers not living in Venezuela the above threats of chaos may sound unreal or far fetched. However, to understand this attitude it is necessary to reflect upon recent contemporary Venezuelan history.

First of all, in the 1998 presidential elections, when it became clear that Chávez would win, the opposition withdrew two of its main candidates (Alfaro Ucero and Irene Saez) and all their votes were allocated to the main contender Henrique Sales Romer, so that it was all against one with the connivance of the then Elections Council – does this sort of tactic sound democratic to you, living in the US? Should Nader’s votes have been added to those of Gore in 2000 or Kerry now?

Other examples of non-democratic acts by the opposition: the April 2002 coup d’etat and derogation of all institutions and the 1999 Constitution, the December 2002 – February 2003 lock-out, oil industry sabotage, pirating the PDVSA oil tanker fleet, the policy of withholding information by the private TV channels and the refusal to report hardly anything which could be construed as positive for the government.

This is the democratic attitude of the ex ruling classes in Venezuela, simply because they just cannot stand losing either their privileges or elections – thus it is always fraud from their point of view, if they lose. The only options that will be left open to them after October 31st are: invasion by the US marines or assassinate Chávez, and both these options will be directly contingent on the results of the US elections on 2nd November.

Not going to vote is thus a continuation of the lack of democratic belief by the extreme groupings of the opposition, and a denial of the democratic process which they claim to uphold. Their behaviour and tactics since 1998 has been anything but democratic, and now it is being poorly disguised under the pretext of the “fraud” banner. Where is the evidence? I am still waiting for it since 16th August.


The moderate, democratic majority of the opposition will go and vote on 31st October and they do not believe this garbage about “fraud”. They also know that they represent 40% of the voting public based on the results of the presidential referendum, which is a decent base to work from. The fact is that the lack of serious leadership in the opposition ranks has provoked undemocratic attitudes to be repeated and covered on a regular basis in the mass media, which due to the amount of  commentary dedicated to this standpoint, appear to represent the norm. The opposition voters should make their presence felt and if they prefer to abstain, they should then accept the fact that the government will take almost all the spoils.

On a longer term basis this may not be a bad thing since it will oblige the opposition to reorganize itself and perhaps new leaders with a positive democratic vision and patriotic attitudes will emerge, with an alternative plan for the country.

In the meantime, confusion will continue to reign until the results of the Regional elections are published. I would guess that someone, somewhere already has a videotape ready denouncing “fraud”. This is contemporary Venezuela and these tactics using the biased private media are also the norm to manipulate public opinion against the government, the National Elections Council, the Supreme Tribunal and any other public institution acting in an unbiased way, which does not appear to favour the interests of the opposition.