Venezuelan Elections Conclude Without Incident and Lower Abstention than Expected

The Venezuelan vote for local city and district council offices on Sunday concluded without incident and relatively low turnout. However, turnout was higher than during the last local vote in 2000. The opposition argued that low turnout was a sign of rejection of the government.

Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2005 —38,000 candidates and 906 parties vied for 5,596 city and district council offices that were up for a vote this past Sunday. Voting proceeded normally and without incident, but with a low turnout that ended up being not quite as low as many expected. Voting results have not been announced yet.

The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced Sunday afternoon that voting would be extended from 4pm to 7pm, a move that opposition leaders criticized as a ploy to lower abstention and possibly to commit fraud. International observers, though, who came from electoral commissions from all Latin American countries, said that they considered the voting to have been a success. “The CNE complied with democracy, assuring everyone transparent and reliable elections,” said Roberto Rivas, the representative from Nicaragua.

The CNE President, Jorge Rodriguez, announced this afternoon that abstention was 69.2%, which made it significantly lower than the abstention rate during the last local elections, of 76.2%, which were held in December 2000.

Before Rodriguez’s announcement of the abstention rate, the opposition group Sumate said that according to its elections observers abstention was 78.1%. All day opposition leaders, such as Gerardo Blyde of the party Justice First, among others, had argued that abstention was over 80% and that the CNE was lying about the turnout. “Why was voting extended? In order to touch up their numbers and to put ghosts to vote,” said Blyde.

Similarly, Sumate representatives argued that the CNE should be replaced as soon as possible because the low turnout was proof of a general distrust in its performance.

Roberto Rivas, the Nicaraguan election observer, though, said that it did not surprise him that turn out was much lower than for past elections. He gave the example of Nicaragua, where voting is obligatory and participation reached 90% for presidential elections, but drops to 40% for local elections.

CNE President Rodriguez said that efforts to portray abstention as a display of mistrust was merely an effort to manipulate. The only elections to which these can be compared are to the ones that took place in December 2002, when abstention was 10% points higher.

Rodriguez also pointed out that in the only state where a state governor was up for vote, abstention dropped to 34.1%, which shows that participation is directly related to the importance of the post for which people vote.

According to the CNE over 4.2 million Venezuelans went to vote, which is 50% more voters than voted in the last local elections.

The more recent and more important elections for state offices and the presidential recall referendum enjoyed far higher participation. For the recall referendum over 10 million Venezuelans voted, representing an abstention rate of 29%.

Ismael Garcia, a deputy of the National Assembly belonging to Podemos, a party allied with Chavez, predicted that pro-Chavez parties won 80% of the offices that were up for a vote on Sunday.

Officially it was announced that the only state in which a governor was to be elected, in Amazonas state, Liborio Guaruya, the incumbent, who is a member of the party PPT, which belongs to Chavez’s coalition, won the vote with 41.3% of the vote. The opposition had split its vote by running two candidates.