Popular Democracy in Action: Communal Council Elections at El Panal

With high turnout, voters elected spokespeople for eight communal councils in Venezuela’s most emblematic urban commune.

Caracas, July 5, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – On Sunday, July 3, the women and men of El Panal Commune in the working-class barrio of 23 de Enero in Caracas woke up to the music of Alí Primera, Ska-P, and Calle 13. The barrio was buzzing with activity as the communards prepared eight voting centers – one for each of the eight communal councils that make up this commune. Each communal council was due to elect 13 spokespeople in areas such as finances, communal economy, education, services, and security and defense.

On the eve of the elections, the people of El Panal – with support from the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force, which is one of the engines behind the commune – organized a festive procession to mobilize the community. Drums, whistles, and rattles sounded throughout the commune’s massive apartment blocks and self-constructed homes. These elections were a step towards consolidating self-government in the community, which in itself is cause for celebration.

All communal council elections are self-organized, but Venezuela’s Nacional Electoral Council (CNE, for its initials in Spanish) provides electoral materials such as voting booths, ballot boxes, and books to register voters. At El Panal Commune, the electoral process employed software that made the process fully automated, while guaranteeing voter secrecy. Faustino Cedeño, the local IT wiz who engineered the system, was there to accompany the process.

Voting began at 10 am and, true to the Chavista tradition, polling stations remained open until the last person in line had cast their vote. The process, including set-up, balloting, counting, and final announcements, lasted well over twelve hours. In all, 2540 people voted, representing almost 45% of the registered voters. This is well above the turnout in the most recent national elections in 2020, which was around 30%, and the 42% in the November 2021 local elections.

When people got to the polling centers, they were often met with a hot coffee and a chair, to make the wait more pleasant. Even when long, the voting lines moved fast. All the voters that VA talked to were delighted by the process and many highlighted the importance of commune-building to overcome the country’s crisis.

The elections attracted a great deal of attention in the Chavista left. Spokespeople from other communes, internationalists, and Minister of Communes Jorge Arreaza visited the commune on Sunday to observe and accompany the process.

At closing, Bárbara “Anacaona” Martínez, a seasoned Alexis Vive organizer, offered her congratulations to the voters and added: “We believe in participative and protagonist democracy, we don’t believe in handpicked leaderships. Here the power is in the hands of the people!”

Photos: Venezuelanalysis and El Panal Commune