Puebla, Mexico, October 13, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – President Nicolas Maduro called Thursday for all Venezuelans to go to the polls in this weekend’s regional elections, as final preparations for the vote are underway.
"I appeal to all Venezuelans to vote,” he said, calling on social movements to “motivate, summon and mobilise the people to vote”.
“Here is the homeland, here is Chavez,” he said, referring to his predecessor, former President Hugo Chavez.
Maduro’s ruling socialist party, the PSUV, is expected to face an uphill battle in Sunday’s regional elections, which will see Venezuelans elect new state legislators and governors. The right-wing opposition and the US have claimed the elections may not be free and fair, and the State Department has warned that moves such as last minute polling station changes call “into question the fairness of the electoral process”.
“We note with great concern that the regime will not permit the presence of independent international electoral observers. We call on the Venezuelan government to permit independent domestic observers to fully monitor the election and its tabulation of results,” the State Department said.
The statement from Washington came as a group of more than 50 international observers arrived in Venezuela early Friday. Among them was the former head of Colombia’s electoral authority, Guillermo Reyes.
"We hope that with the audits, we can give full confidence and guarantees for the [voting] system, and the electoral authorities give us full reliability, which we will pass on to Venezuelans so that they can participate with the peace of mind that their vote will be effectively validated and accounted for," he told Venezuelan state media.
The arrival of the observers was part of last minute preparations for the vote. On Friday morning, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced it had almost finished preparing over 13,550 voting centres. CNE director Socorro Hernandez said all polling station locations have been confirmed.
“As of today there will be no new relocated centres, the last centres were relocated yesterday,” Hernandez said.
Last minute changes to voting stations have become a controversy in the lead-up to the vote, after elections earlier this year were marred by allegations of irregularities. Opposition leaders have accused the CNE of intentionally moving stations to make it harder for their supporters to vote, while the State Department has likewise expressed concern over the changes.
“Just this week, for example, the CNE announced the closing or relocation of 203 polling stations in 16 states, typically in opposition-dominated areas, and potentially disenfranchising as many as 450,000 voters,” the State Department claimed.
Hernandez responded by stating many of the changes were due to safety concerns, arguing a number of the CNE’s usual voting stations were damaged in a wave of anti-government violence earlier this year. Much of the violence was concentrated in opposition strongholds, with anti-government groups reportedly besieging 200 voting centers in a bid to prevent contested July 30 National Constituent Assembly elections (ANC) from being held.
Hernandez also said the CNE had opted to not use some of the usual voting locations due to their alleged refusal to open for the controversial ANC vote.
“The CNE can’t depend on whether or not someone wants to open a polling place; therefore, such polling stations could put the CNE in a risky position,” Hernandez said, expressing hope the CNE could return to these locations in future elections.
"The 274 polling stations that were relocated will not remain this way forever, because we evaluate every electoral process," Hernandez added.
Maduro praised the work of the CNE and accused the opposition and Trump administration of trying to “silence us because they want to sell the world the fake news that there is a dictatorship in Venezuela”.
"They have silenced Venezuela, where we have an exemplary electoral campaign with the participation of the right-wing, with hundreds of candidates, mobilisation, and the full recognition of the National Electoral Council (CNE),” he said.
The head of Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly also condemned the State Department.
"The US Department of State issued a communication that we categorically reject; we Venezuelans are exercising our sovereignty to settle our own affairs," she said.