Santiago de Chile, June 14, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s highest court swore in the new leadership of the National Electoral Council (CNE) on Friday, paving the way for parliamentary elections later this year.
The Supreme Court (TSJ) appointed Indira Maira Alfonzo Izaguirre as president of the country’s electoral branch of government and Rafael Jimenez Melean as vice president. Gladys Gutierrez Alvarado, Tania D’Amelio Cardiet, and José Gutiérrez Parra were named principal rectors.
Alfonzo Izaguirre is a veteran Venezuelan judge who previously served as vice president of the TSJ and president of the court’s electoral chamber. A former vice president of the National Assembly (AN), Jimenez Melean initially supported the Chavez government before going on to participate in several different opposition parties.
Gutierrez Alvarado is likewise a TSJ justice who was president of the court from 2013 until 2017. D’Amelio Cardiet is a sitting CNE rector, having served since 2010. She was sanctioned by the US in 2017 and Panama in 2018. Gutiérrez Parra is a lawyer and former CNE official who in the past headed the body’s promotion and participation unit charged with encouraging electoral turnout. He is also the brother of Bernabé Gutiérrez, the national secretary of opposition party Democratic Action.
Under Article 296 of Venezuela’s constitution, the CNE leadership must be nominated by a two-thirds vote of the AN.
However, on June 4, representatives from six minority opposition parties filed a motion before the TSJ requesting that the court declare a “legislative omission” and appoint a new CNE in order to guarantee AN elections by year’s end.
Speaking on behalf of Solutions for Venezuela, Cambiemos, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), Progressive Advance, Christian Democratic COPEI, and Hope for Change, MAS Secretary General Felipe Mujica argued that the parliament has “already been trying to settle on an organ to guarantee rights for a year and this has not been possible to resolve via the AN.”
The litigants are all members of the National Dialogue Roundtable, which was created last September to reach agreements with the government regarding electoral guarantees, “political prisoners,” as well as US sanctions.
Citing Article 336 of the constitution authorizing the TSJ to intervene in the event of unconstitutional legislative gridlock, the court acceded to the opposition parties’ request and announced it would name a new CNE. In its sentence, the TSJ additionally struck down two articles of the country’s Organic Law of Electoral Processes, ordering the CNE to establish new norms for greater proportional legislative representation to ensure more “political pluralism,” and to modify the election of indigenous legislators according to local traditions.
On March 9, the AN convened a CNE nominations committee, composed of representatives of both the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and lawmakers loyal to opposition leader Juan Guaido. But following the declaration of a national quarantine in Venezuela on March 16, the committee did not remain in session, failing to deliver a list of nominees.
The TSJ has previously interceded to name a new CNE in 2003, 2005, and 2014 on which occasions the AN’s nomination committee failed to secure a two-thirds majority.
The Supreme Court’s appointment of a new CNE drew criticism from sectors of both the left and right.
Venezuelan Communist Party leading member Carlos Aquino denounced the new electoral authority’s “little credibility and doubtful legality,” arguing that the TSJ should have followed the nomination process outlined in the electoral law, which mandates the participation of national universities and other civil society actors.
For his part, opposition leader Juan Guaido rejected the “false CNE named by the judicial arm of the dictatorship.”
Guaido proclaimed himself “interim president” of Venezuela in January 2019 with the backing of Washington and its allies. Earlier this year, Guaido failed to secure reelection as president of the National Assembly in a contested election amid a series of scandals and increasing challenges to his leadership.
Guaido’s office also released a communiqué declaring that the opposition would boycott this year’s parliamentary elections organized by the new CNE. The statement was signed by the main opposition parties, including Democratic Action, Justice First, A New Era, and Popular Will. Democratic Action had previously stated its intention to participate.
Nevertheless, the CNE’s new vice president, Rafael Jimenez Melean, claimed, “Guaido knows the support I have given him,” and urged the opposition to participate in elections.
“Venezuela is unhinged. It has dual powers in everything. I don’t think there is another solution than an electoral one.”
The other opposition-aligned rector, José Gutiérrez Parra, likewise told hardline anti-government news outlet El Nacional that “there are conditions” for an opposition parliamentary victory, insisting that no fraud has occured in recent Venezuelan elections.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro additionally weighed in on Sunday, claiming that the new CNE was a "consensual decision" reached with the opposition.
"I met with everyone," he said, adding that he had even had contact with Guaido and the four largest opposition parties that support him.