Merida, March 1, 2018, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) made the shock announcement this Thursday that it would postpone much anticipated presidential elections scheduled for April 22 until May.
According to declarations made by CNE President Tibisay Lucena at a press conference, the vote will be pushed back to May 20 while elections for municipal and regional legislative councils will also now be held on the same day.
The surprise postponement is the result of an agreement reached this Thursday between the parties backing Maduro and political leaders of opposition parties, Progressive Advance, COPEI and MAS, which are supporting presidential candidate and former Lara State Governor Henri Falcon in the upcoming elections.
“The electoral power celebrates the signing of this agreement through which these organisations commit to the country so that this electoral process may contribute to the peace between Venezuelans,” stated Lucena.
“With this agreement, we ratify that in Venezuela we choose our leaders with the broadest and fullest electoral guarantees,” she continued.
The new agreement includes a number of electoral guarantees that had been outlined in a previous deal negotiated between the national government and the coalition of opposition parties known as the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) during talks in the Dominican Republic. A much-anticipated deal between the two sides was expected to be signed off at the beginning of February following months of internationally mediated dialogue. However, the MUD walked away at the last minute, while an early election date of April 22 was announced by the CNE shortly afterwards.
Since then, the MUD has vowed to boycott the upcoming elections and went as far as to expel Falcon from its ranks after he registered with national electoral authorities as a presidential candidate this past Monday.
Following the CNE’s announcement to push back elections this Thursday, the MUD reaffirmed its decision to boycott, declaring that “the MUD has no presidential candidate”. They also complained that Falcon could not speak in the name of the “opposition” in Venezuela, as he had not been recognised as a spokesperson by the MUD leadership.
The fact that the MUD has failed to register a presidential candidate means that they will not be able to participate in a meeting called by the CNE for this Friday, when all six nominees who registered before this Thursday’s cut-off date will further discuss the agreed electoral guarantees.
The electoral guarantees agreed upon in Thursday’s agreement include safeguarding equal access to both private and public, national and international media, as well as social media coverage.
The agreement also commits the CNE to creating a delegation to observe “ all phases of the electoral process” with participants from United Nations and “other mutually agreed upon international bodies and organisations”. The vehemently anti-Maduro secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, will also be invited to the country as an electoral observer.
In addition, Lucena went on to announce that the electoral registry will be re-opened for further voter registration, both within Venezuela and in embassies and consulates abroad so that Venezuelans with a local visa outside the country can vote. Similarly, voting centres which had been relocated following violent outbreaks in July 2017’s Constituent Assembly elections are to be returned to their initial location.
The agreement also guarantees that “audits” of the electoral process will be carried out in a “not inferior” way to those to carried out during the previous regional and municipal elections, which saw over twenty audits supervised by representatives of all participating political parties as a standard operating practice.
Party political logistical kiosks will also be pushed back to a distance of 200 metres from voting centres on election day to avoid voter intimidation or activists attempting to influence voters.
Meanwhile, the president has also agreed during the campaign period to “avoid” making nationally broadcast speeches, which are mandatorily carried on all public and private media.
Lucena concluded that the deal “ratified the dialogue” in the Dominican Republic, even though it had not resulted in an official deal with the national government and the MUD.
While Lucena clarified that May 20 will see elections for president as well as state and local legislatures, she made no mention, however, of National Assembly elections.
Last week a request by President Maduro to call “mega elections” of all municipal and regional legislative councils, the National Assembly, and the presidency on the same day was rejected by the CNE on technical grounds, with Lucena declaring, "On April 22 we will elect only our president."
On Tuesday, CNE Rector Tania D'Amelio told Panorama that she could not confirm that National Assembly elections would be held this year, as the proposal is still under evaluation by the body's technical committee.