For the next two weeks, new voters over 18 years old will be able to sign up to the electoral register and those already registered, including many of the 70,000 emigrants who have returned to the country in recent months, will be able to update their address and preferred voting centres, as authorities look to stimulate participation.
Healthcare safeguards have been established for the process, including COVID-19 tests for all 1,100 electoral personnel involved and the deployment of biosecurity suits and disinfecting equipment, as coronavirus cases continue to rise sharply in the Caribbean country.
“The political right [to suffrage] is guaranteed, and not conditioned on the pandemic,” explained CNE President Indira Alfonzo, who replaced long-standing CNE chief, Tibisay Lucena, last month.
A special electoral security operation for the COVID-19 lockdown is also being organised, and is due to include a leading role for the Bolivarian Militia for the first time, overseeing coronavirus sanitary controls.
The December election sees 105 political parties accredited to contest 277 National Assembly seats for the 2021-26 period, 110 more than the current term.
Under a recently modified electoral system, deputies will be elected in a 48-52 percent split between nominal and list candidates, with 229 deputies chosen through a first-past-the-post system across 87 constituencies and 48 elected by proportional representation on a national list.
Postulations, of which at least half must be female, are to be made between August 10 and 19 and campaigning will kick off on November 21. Over 24 audits of the different components of the electronic and paper voting system will be carried out between August 14 and January 21, 2021, including the unique on-the-spot “citizens’ audit” on voting day.
The majority of opposition parties have confirmed their participation, including the larger Democratic Action and Justice First parties, and a number of smaller ones including COPEI, Progressive Advance and Movement to Socialism. A New Era party is reportedly still deciding whether to participate.
For his part, self-declared “Interim President” Juan Guaido and hardline loyalists have followed Washington in declaring that they will not participate nor recognise the results of the election.
Guaido’s former party, however, is the latest to announce its participation in the elections, marking an important policy shift in the hard-right Popular Will party. The party played a key role in the 2014 and 2017 anti-government “street violence” and has abstained in the past three elections, prompting some Venezuelan authorities to classify it as a “terrorist organisation.”
Last Tuesday, Popular Will saw a leadership change, with far right firebrand Leopoldo Lopez replaced by the AN’s current vice president, Jose Noriega Figueroa, who will lead an ad-hoc leadership including Guillermo Luces Osorio and Lucila Pacheco Bravo. The change came after Noriega and Pacheco, who were both expelled from the party by Lopez’s faction last December, won a Supreme Court lawsuit to be reinstated and have an ad-hoc leadership imposed. The deputies claimed that Lopez’s grouping had violated their “constitutional rights” and that the party had been hijacked by anti-democratic forces.
Following his legal victory, Noriega was quick to affirm the parties policy shift, explaining that “We are going to take our organisation on the electoral route and participate in the next elections,” promising to not impose restrictions on candidatures “as the previous leadership did.”
In the 2015 parliamentary election, Popular Will won 14 seats, including Juan Guaido, who left the party in January this year. In response to Tuesday’s ruling, Guaido claimed that it reflected the “fury” of the authorities, while former party leader Leopoldo Lopez claimed that he was “on the correct side of history.”
Despite Popular Will opting to participate, it is not clear whether the CNE will accredit the party, having excluded it from a July 6 list published prior to the ruling. Democratic Action and First Justice, which saw similar Supreme Court rulings and ad-hoc leaderships imposed last month, have been accredited to take part.
As the number of right-wing parties gearing up to go to the polls increases, the majority of the 15 centre-left and left-wing parties in the Simon Bolivar Great Patriotic Pole Alliance have also confirmed their participation, with the exception of REDES party which failed to comply with legal re-registering requirements.
Last week, the Homeland for All (PPT) party and the Communist Party (PCV) began selecting their candidates, with the latter’s Central Committee approving a “Non-Exclusive, Popular and Revolutionary Alternative Alliance” on July 3.
While the details and makeup of the alliance are yet to be made public, the PCV and PPT have been increasingly coordinating political strategies and campaigns, as well as becoming more vocal in their criticism of government policies. They also joined forces to contest ruling party candidates in a range of localities in the 2018 municipal elections, placing the PCV-PPT-PSUV alliance, which has mostly held since 2005, under threat.