Analysis | English | Reports | 5 diciembre 2012

Seeking Competitive Elections in Venezuela (analysis, Election Alert #8)

Venezuelans’ historic turnout for the presidential elections of October 7 (80.48% of all registered voters) and acceptance of the results by all parties might indicate that this electoral process was an example for the democratic world.

Indeed, the efforts of political parties, non-governmental organizations and civil society in general to achieve the necessary conditions for elections recognized by all parties to be held are laudable and noteworthy. Nevertheless, the failure to comply with basic international electoral—and democratic—standards detracts from Venezuelans’ historic election turnout.

Initially, crucial problems could be identified in four areas: the use of institutional advertising (including officials broadcasts) and government resources to do political proselytizing, unbalanced coverage by the media, involvement of public officials in the campaign (under pressure by third parties or of their own free will) and misinformation— or the concealment of information by the election authority—on vital processes and areas of the election’s organization that remained consistently outside the oversight of political parties. Although it cannot be affirmed that this lack of information—and access— influenced the outcome of the elections, it is one example of how the election authority ignored the basic principle of transparency and balance that should characterize an election.

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Unbalanced coverage in the media, the use of public resources and involvement of public officials in the campaign are problems that could be prevented if the National Electoral Council (CNE) exercised the enforcement powers it is vested with pursuant to Venezuelan law. Unfortunately, however, the role of the electoral oversight body was geared toward allowing an unfair electoral advantage and avoiding the imposition of penalties for the use of public resources and government assets in order to favor one of the presidential candidates.

In this regard, in its preliminary report on the Venezuelan electoral process, the Carter Center explained the origin of these failures on the part of the Venezuelan electoral body. “Of its five current members, four, including its president, have ties to a greater or lesser extent to the Chávez administration and one has ties to the opposition.

The CNE’s political leanings help to explain its scant enthusiasm for addressing some of the campaign’s issues, in particular those related to campaign regulations, as well as its inconsistent efforts in enforcing such regulations.” Generally speaking, all political parties agreed that the automated voting system worked satisfactorily on October 7 thanks to the participation of the candidates’ electoral experts in 16 audits of the voting platform. Nonetheless, other issues still urgently require attention from the Venezuelan electoral authorities and the international community, as can be gathered from the public communiqués of independent electoral experts who made up the five national observation organizations accredited by the CNE.

“Of its five current members, four, including its president, have ties to a greater or lesser extent to the Chávez administration and one has ties to the opposition”

Venezuelans want free and fair elections, including the campaign period

In order for Venezuelan elections to be truly competitive the recommendations that were issued six years ago in the report by the European Union’s International Observation Mission must be revisited. The electoral oversight body must give priority to mechanisms for penalizing violations that are provided for under the Basic Law on Electoral Processes [Ley Orgánica de Procesos Electorales] (LOPRE), the Elections Authority Act [Ley del Poder Electoral] (LOPE), and the General Electoral Regulations of LOPRE so that violations committed are penalized during the campaign and not after the elections.

In order to prevent those in power from having an unfair electoral advantage, the CNE could follow the example of electoral legislation from Colombia, Brazil or Mexico in order to try and reduce—or eventually ban—the use of institutional advertisement of government works as a guise for electoral propaganda during the campaign. In addition to regulating the use of public resources and assets, the technical issues listed below need to be urgently addressed:

  • The CNE needs to be transparent with regard to the procedure it follows to select polling station coordinators and technical personnel, who are working in an increasingly complex Venezuelan voting system. According to national observers of the October 7th elections, “the problems that emerged both regarding center coordinators, as well as members of the Plan República, are noteworthy. There were cases in which coordinators took on roles that went beyond their purview, placing themselves above [the authority] of the chairs and other members of the election board, in clear violation of the regulations in force. This unlawful positioning was at the root of difficulties faced by several observers in doing their job.
  • The CNE should report on how many members of the election boards selected randomly by the CNE were actually trained and worked at polling stations. This information is crucial in order to clearly ascertain whether political activists have control of the election boards on election day.
  • The regulations on disabled voters that are to be accompanied when voting remains unenforced and is used to pressure voters. According to a report by Asamblea de Educación (one of the five national observation groups endorsed by the CNE) at 6.3% of the polling stations observed, the regulations on companions for assisted voting were not respected. Based on the total number of polling stations, this would come to 2,477. It is impossible to know how many votes were cast under coercion.
  • The CNE must clearly inform the Plan República, polling station coordinators and the community in general that polling stations may close at 6:00 PM if no voters are in line. National observers reported extensive lack of compliance (13%) with the rule that establishes the closing time of polling stations. This situation may have been aggravated by the CNE’s failure to announce in a timely manner the conclusion of voting.
  • Opposition experts have demanded that the CNE improve its quality control procedures for voting machines and establish appropriate contingency procedures. It is unacceptable that at a given moment 1,400 machines at polling stations failed to work and that 400 machines were switched to manual voting. There were numerous cases of polling places where voting continued until 10:00 PM, the time when the election results were being announced. Approximately 50,000 voters still do not know the results of their polling stations because the manual tabulation record was not adequately processed.
  • The CNE must be accountable with regard to the functioning of the equipment for “biometric identification,” known as the Integrated Authentication System [Sistema de Autenticación Integrado] (SAI), which has been integrated into the voting machine. Specifically, the CNE should clarify to what extent this equipment effectively identified voters as compared to the CNE’s expectations and the equipment’s technical specifications.

Finally, it is noteworthy that given the absence of qualified international election observation missions in the country for the October 7th elections—with the exception of the efforts undertaken by the Carter Center—non-governmental organizations (NGOs), whether recognized or not by the CNE, played a vital role in monitoring electoral conditions. This kind of initiatives should be strengthened, especially in order to guarantee the Independence of NGOs’ work, as the only manner in which Venezuela will be able to hold elections in the future that are free, fair and competitive.

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This bulletin, which circulates bi-monthly, is produced by a group of Venezuelan social organizations, together with journalists and academics. The main objective of this publication is to alert the international community to developments in the electoral campaign for the October 7 presidential elections and regional elections on December 16, 2012.

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