Merida, 6th December 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Campaigning for Venezuela's municipal elections ended on Thursday, with a final round of peaceful rallies taking place across the country.
On Sunday Venezuelans will head to the polls for the second time this year, this time to elect mayors and counsellors for the country's 335 municipalities. A total of 2,792 positions are up for grabs.
The last pre-election rallies were held on Thursday, the final day candidates were allowed to campaign in accordance with Venezuelan law.
In Caracas, large crowds rallied for United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) mayoral candidates for the Greater Caracas and Libertador mayoralties.
“I feel the duty to govern for everyone; let's have a government of inclusion,” PSUV candidate for Greater Caracas Ernesto Villegas told the gathering.
A smaller rally took place in Merida just before midday, with a few thousand PSUV supporters turning out to back socialist mayoral candidate Maria Castillo.
“Look, there is democracy here! The private media never says it, but there is democracy in Venezuela,” one PSUV supporter told Venezuelanalysis.
Later in the day, supporters of the opposition party Primero Justicia mounted their own final hour rally. Convoys of pick-up trucks loaded with sound systems and campaign banners moved through Merida city centre until late in the afternoon.
A larger opposition rally was staged late on Thursday in Venezuela's second largest city Maracaibo, in support of the Democratic Unity Roundtable's (MUD) incumbent Eveling Trejo de Rosales. In her final rally before the polls Rosales was accompanied by Miranda governor and former MUD presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
Both Capriles and President Nicolas Maduro have criss-crossed the country in recent weeks to bolster support for their municipal allies.
During the campaigning season Maduro visited 21 municipalities in 17 states, while Capriles has campaigned in 117 municipalities in 21 states, according to the private newspaper El Nacional.
The de facto opposition leader has labelled the municipal elections a chance for a “plebiscite” on Maduro's performance since being elected in April. The president himself has declared 8 December The Day of Love and Loyalty to Hugo Chavez.
According to a recent survey by pollster Datanalisis, security, inflation and scarcity are the most common concerns for voters.
Preparation for Sunday's Election Starts
With campaigning over, this morning the National Electoral Council (CNE) began preparing voting stations by rolling out 39,427 voting machines nationwide.
“We are ready to organise and manage the electoral process by installing polling stations... so Venezuelans can decide the country's future,” CNE head Tibisay Lucena told state broadcaster VTV on Wednesday.
Once the machines are installed in voting stations, CNE auditors will test them in the presence of witnesses from political parties and independent observers. On Thursday, 50 international observers were welcomed to the country by the government.
Further tests will also take place early Sunday morning before booths open.
80,000 soldiers and 76,000 other security personnel have now been deployed across the country to maintain law and order over the weekend, according to head of the National Armed Forces Strategic Operation Command Vladimiro Padrino. The final week of campaigning has generally been peaceful, and today Padrino urged for further calm over the weekend.
“We totally reject the calls for violence,” he stated.
“We are still mourning and grieving the death toll of 14 and 15 April,” Padrino said.
He also stated that officials from the military, public ministry and national crime investigation bodies SEBIN and CICPC will comprise an “observatory of the peace” to monitor and respond to any post-election violence.
“But we're betting that there will be recognition of the political actors, and the people and institutions of Venezuela will be respected,” Padrino said.
According to Lucena the electoral process has also been improved by CNE efforts to encourage more people to vote.
“Today, that gap [between those registered to vote and those unregistered], has narrowed to the smallest amount ever – 3.5%. It still exists, but we have had a sustained policy based on serious research to fix the problems that the electoral register used to have, and we have created more places for people to register to vote,” Lucena told AVN.
She also stated that in recent years auditing of the electoral process has been improved.
“All the electoral processes have been guaranteed, and they’re getting more secure all the time. This means that we have been establishing new security measures in all the elections, and this one is no different,” she stated.
Although Capriles has maintained that he lost the April elections by fraud, he has urged supporters to vote.
Maduro, however, expressed confidence in the voting system earlier this week, and urged Venezuelans to participate on Sunday to “strengthen and consolidate democracy”.
“We have the most transparent and perfect electoral system in the world,” he stated.