Venezuelan Parliament Appoints New Electoral Authorities with Two Opposition Members

The new CNE was the product of behind-the-scenes dialogue between the Maduro government and moderate opposition sectors.

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The five-member board will oversee mayoral and gubernatorial elections later this year. (Twitter/@Asamblea_Ven)
The five-member board will oversee mayoral and gubernatorial elections later this year. (Twitter/@Asamblea_Ven)
By Andreína Chávez Alava
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Guayaquil, Ecuador, May 6 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) appointed a new five-member National Electoral Council (CNE) board for a seven-year period.

The new council’s five-person leadership and its ten substitutes were chosen out of 103 candidates, presented by diverse sectors of society, including universities and civic organizations. The candidates were evaluated between January and April, with the AN’s Nominations Committee shortlisting the 15 members approved by a majority on Tuesday.

The five-person board features two opposition figures from ranks which broke with the US-backed Juan Guaidó-led coalition to engage in dialogue with the Nicolás Maduro government.

Roberto Picón, an engineer and opposition adviser, was jailed for six months in 2017 on charges of attempting technical sabotage during the National Constituent Assembly election. The second one is Enrique Márquez, a former lawmaker and briefly vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly between 2016 and 2020.

"We will try to overcome all the obstacles that exist so that people again believe in the vote as an instrument of change," Picón told Reuters, stressing that the new board was "the most balanced in the past 17 years." This is the first time since 2005 that the opposition will have two seats in the National Electoral Council.

The other three CNE seats are taken by historian Pedro Calzadilla, who served as a culture and university education minister between 2011 to 2014, alongside Alexis Corredor, a member of the 2017 Constituent Assembly, and Tania D'Amelio, deputy for ten years and a part of the prior electoral board.

Calzadilla was appointed CNE president, while Márquez will occupy the position of vice president.

The National Electoral Council will serve for a seven-year period. (Twitter/@Asamblea_Ven/@ve_cne)

The new CNE was defended by members of the Parliament’s Nominations Committee, who reassured the new board represents a path out of Venezuela’s political crisis. Opposition deputy José Gregorio Correa, committee vice president, said the five-person board represents "democracy and tolerance.” He highlighted that the new authorities would oversee all the upcoming elections, starting with the mayoral and gubernatorial races later this year.

For his part, AN President Jorge Rodríguez said the new electoral board reaffirms the country’s institutionality and sovereignty.

"They will be the administrators of the voice of the people that will be expressed in elections in the next seven years in Venezuela," said during Tuesday’s AN session.

Likewise, President Maduro stressed that the new CNE was achieved through a "political agreement discussed and negotiated with all opposition sectors." He praised the new council members' "great professional prestige."

The opposition’s parliamentary bloc, grouped in the Democratic Alliance, issued a communique expressing its support for the new National Electoral Council. The document stated the new CNE was "the result of great efforts by the different political actors to take the electoral and constitutional route." At the same time, they demanded transparency in the upcoming electoral processes, including the possibility of a presidential recall referendum in 2022.

Along the same lines, longtime anti-Chavista leader and former two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles highlighted the inclusion of two opposition politicians in the CNE board as "an essential first step to open the constitutional and democratic reconstruction path." While stressing that "changes" should go beyond a balanced electoral referee, Capriles called the appointment "an opportunity amid a political crisis that remains stagnant."

In contrast, hardline sectors headed by Juan Guaidó rejected the new electoral authorities, claiming that its members were named by an “illegitimate” legislative body.

"If the new CNE were a solution to the crisis, its first task would be to call for presidential elections, owed since 2018, and parliamentary elections. It can't because it's not independent," Guaidó tweeted. The opposition leader proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019 and has retained US support. Guaidó and his followers refused to take part in the December 2020 legislative elections which delivered an overwhelming majority for the Maduro government.

International reactions, mainly from Washington and its allies, were also swift after Tuesday’s announcement. Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States (OAS), criticized the appointments and accused those who took part in the CNE dialogue of being “collaborationists” of the Maduro government.

However, the assistant secretary for the US Department of State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung, struck a more moderate tone. The diplomat said “it's up to Venezuelans” to decide whether the new National Electoral Council is a positive step, but stressed that the US would “continue to press for the fundamental minimum changes needed for free and fair elections.”

Numerous international organizations and observers have defended the transparency of Venezuela's election process. The current electoral system goes through 16 different audits, before, during and after the vote, which includes auditing the electoral registry, software, voting books, hardware, and other aspects. Every step is witnessed by observers and representatives of all participating political parties.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Sarare.