Mexico City, Mexico, May 12, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced Tuesday that the country will hold regional “mega-elections” this year that will see voters choose authorities for 23 governorships and 335 municipalities.
The announcement comes after Venezuela's National Assembly (AN) appointed a new five-member CNE board, which includes representation from high profile opposition figures representing sectors that engaged in dialogue with the Nicolás Maduro government.
CNE head Pedro Calzadilla said the electoral authority would invite international observers to accompany the process, and that the board had agreed to revisit the disqualifications of a number of anti-government figures.
Venezuela’s constitution mandates that regional elections must be held this year. The vote would be the 26th electoral process in 20 years.
Several opposition parties and politicians announced their intention to participate in the upcoming vote and reiterated their commitment to pursue an electoral strategy.
"We reject personal agendas that encourage abstention or individual actions that are outside the Constitution of the Republic and the Statutes of our organization," read a statement from opposition party COPEI.
Most mainstream opposition parties boycotted the previous governor and municipal elections, held in October and December 2017, respectively. The ruling socialist party secured 20 of 23 governorships and 300 of 335 mayorships.
The inclination of parties such as COPEI, Acción Democratica, and Primero Venezuela to take part in the “mega-elections” stands in stark contrast to that of the opposition coalition backing self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó that has refused to participate in recent electoral contests.
Hours before the CNE press conference, Guaidó released a polished video on social media calling for a "national agreement" that would include new elections for all political posts in the country, including the presidency. In a break from his previous position, the opposition leader said these negotiations would include representatives from the Maduro government.
The US-backed politician also proposed the gradual lifting of illegal sanctions as an “incentive" if the Maduro government followed his plan, with international actors supervising compliance.
For his part, President Maduro was quick to criticize Guaidó’s proposal, calling it a “desperate” effort by the former deputy to avoid being marginalized in ongoing negotiations with moderate opposition sectors who have rejected violent regime-change strategies.
In a televised address, the Venezuelan president reiterated that designation of the new CNE board was itself a product of a “very broad” dialogue between the government and the opposition, save for the “extremist” segment led by Guaidó. Maduro called on the US-backed politician to join existing negotiating tables if he has a genuine interest in dialogue.
Maduro also revealed that former opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara, a close Guaidó ally, approached government officials in order to open a line of communication and potentially take part in upcoming elections.
Since declaring himself president in 2019, Guaidó has tried to oust Maduro via punishing US-led sanctions, coup plots, and paramilitary incursions. However, after repeated failures and a string of scandals, the Guaidó-led coalition has become increasingly discredited and dependent on US support.
"[Guaidó] was left out of everything, he was left isolated and defeated," said Maduro during a broadcast Tuesday night.
The inclusion of opposition figures in the CNE, alongside other measures such as releasing six Citgo executives to house arrest, were interpreted by analysts as overtures to the Biden administration.
Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that US figures, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, had opened a channel with the Maduro government. Meeks had recently called for sanctions relief and direct engagement with Caracas. The report further claimed that the Biden White House was reviewing its sanctions policy toward Venezuela. Publicly, the new administration has largely kept the same position as its Republican predecessor, maintaining heavy sanctions and support for Guaidó’s “interim presidency.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, Julie Chung, assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, reiterated her position that it was up to Venezuelans to decide if the new CNE board was a positive step.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Sarare.