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VENEZUELA is holding its fifth election for the National Assembly since Hugo Chavez first won the presidency in December 1998.
The five-yearly contest for seats in the assembly will take place on December 6.
While the Trump administration and the self-declared “interim president” Juan Guaido have already declared that they will not recognise the elections as “free and fair,” Venezuela is going to even further lengths than previously to demonstrate that the electoral process is of unquestionable integrity.
In doing so, it has also accommodated some key demands raised by those right-wing opposition parties participating in dialogue with the government, which culminated in an agreement in September 2019.
One of those demands was the establishment of a new National Electoral Council (CNE), which the National Assembly began work on in October 2019.
When the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the completion of this task, a number of representatives of opposition political parties introduced a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) for this to be rectified.
The TSJ took on the responsibility for the restructuring of the CNE, which was completed in June.
The new CNE includes both government and opposition representatives.
Its executive committee acted swiftly to approve — unanimously — the special rules for parliamentary elections for the 2021-26 National Assembly.
In response to the call by opposition parties for an expansion in the number of seats elected by proportional representation (on a list system), the CNE has increased the total number of National Assembly deputies to be elected from 167 to 277, and while keeping the existing 87 electoral districts intact, upped the number of seats elected by list votes from 51 to 144 or 52 per cent of the total.
The CNE has been following its publicly announced electoral schedule or roadmap between July and the elections on December 6.
All arrangements have been devised to comply with all the necessary Covid-19 pandemic health protocols to protect the population from possible infection.
A new electoral register — adding new voters and removing those now deceased — has been drawn up following a countrywide exercise during July.
This involved 551 registration points, staffed by 1,202 operators, which registered a total of 808,522 updates to the register.
The new register was made publicly available on August 8, enabling any challenges to be made in the following fortnight.
Following this, the electoral register was audited, attended by representatives of the political parties participating in the elections.
The resulting register has 251,398 new voters, and also identifies 483,896 people with disabilities to help the CNE to develop policies to assist these voters at election time.
The audit of the register was the second of the 16 audits carried out during the entire electoral process, from beginning to end, to provide a guarantee of integrity to voters, to political parties and to national and international public opinion.
Venezuela’s automated system is thus the most audited in the region and the world.
The 16 audits (which are accessible via a live streaming channel at vod.streamingconnect.tv/cnetv/user/) are:
The period for electoral nominations commenced on August 10 and was extended twice, until September 4.
In a new development, the CNE set up an automated system of nominations, whereby each person authorised by the participating political organisations is given a user name and password to easily register their nominations through the website www.cne.gob.ve during the nominations period.
More than 14,000 nominations were received from political organisations, of which more than 3,000 were from established political organisations and their alliances.
A total of 107 political organisations are participating: 30 national organisations, 53 regional organisations, six national indigenous organisations, and 18 regional indigenous organisations.
Participation by opposition parties is extensive. Of the 107 participating organisations, 95 are not supporting pro-government candidates.
Campaigning is due to start on November 19. Participating organisations have already jointly agreed with the CNE where on the electronic ballot their respective identifying logos will be placed for the elections, in accordance with electoral law.
The CNE has actively sought to engage the media, political organisations, public authorities and public and private universities to provide information and encourage reflection on and analysis of the electoral process.
This has included a special workshop on the automated accountability system which facilitates a transparent presentation of the origin and destination of the funding received by participating parties for their electoral campaigns.
The Venezuelan government has invited both the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) to monitor the elections by sending observers.
However, despite being informed about the electoral guarantees put in place, the EU has responded that the Venezuelan government so far has not met the “minimum conditions” required to permit the EU to do so.
Its reply added that “time is already too short” to deploy a full EU electoral observer mission if the Maduro administration does not delay the vote beyond the current date of December 6 — despite this date having been publicly known since 1 July.
It also ignores the fact that according to Venezuela’s constitution the National Assembly elections must take place in 2020.
There is a clear danger that the US and its allies in Latin America and Europe will seek to delegitimise the results of the election and continue to brand Venezuela as “undemocratic” to justify the economic blockade of the country.
Already there is evidence of attempts to sabotage the election.
An arson attack against a CNE warehouse in March destroyed virtually all the country’s voting machines, requiring their replacement with an improved model that has been audited by staff from the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts and other international experts.
Worryingly, too, Guaido has called for “street action” over the electoral weekend, invoking memories of the violence employed by right-wing extremists in 2014 and 2017 to destabilise the government.
In addition, President Maduro has warned of plans for 1,000 mercenaries to infiltrate Venezuela from training camps in Colombia, which would represent a vastly scaled-up rerun of the Operation Gideon attack of May 2020 linked to Guaido.
Join the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign at www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/join.
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