Winning a majority in Venezuela’s Dec. 6 parliamentary elections does not guarantee control of the country’s National Assembly, notes a study released Thursday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“Media reports have so far been based on national polling, without any explanation of the system of representation,” said CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot in a press release. “As a result, most people following the news would think an opposition majority is inevitable.”
In fact, writes economist David Rosnick, Venezuela’s electoral system is not based on the national vote. As in countries like the United States and Britain, voters elect a representative for their legislative district.
However, “It is important to understand that the difference between the percentage of the vote and the percentage of seats received by a party or a coalition is not the result of ‘gerrymandering’ or any other manipulation of districts, as is sometimes suggested in the media,” says Rosnick. “Like the United States and many other countries, Venezuela has a system of representation that gives disproportional representation to states with smaller populations.”
In Venezuela, less populated rural districts are generally further to the left than those in urban centers, a fact that favors the current government. And that means even if opposition parties out poll the ruling party and its coalition partners on the national level, that does not necessarily mean it will win a majority of the assembly’s 165 seats.
Some in the Venezuelan opposition have exploited ignorance of the country’s electoral system to set the stage for post-election violence, claiming anything short of an outright parliamentary majority for the opposition will be the result of theft.
Lilian Tintori, for instance, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, recently said that, come Dec. 6, “either the opposition wins or there is fraud.”
“Unfortunately,” said CEPR’s Weisbrot, “there have been a lot of international attacks on the integrity of the voting system, and this could provoke instability or even violence depending on the electoral outcome. This is especially true in light of the lack of understanding of how the system of representation works.”