Sunday, December 6, 2015

Venezuela: Contested elections in a country with an anti-democratic regime

Voting in Venezuela is a militarized process full of irregularities

Armed forces sent to "guard" the electoral process in Venezuela
 Today's vote in Venezuela is important but it won't be the decisive factor in restoring democracy in that country. If the opposition truly believe that the majority voting against Maduro's political party, the PSUV will alone end his dictatorship then they have lost before the first ballot was cast.  On Tuesday, December 1st on his weekly television show Nicolas Maduro spoke clearly on how he would respond to an opposition victory in the legislative elections: "I will never allow this to happen, ever. I would go out on the streets and fight side by side with the people." His government's approval ratings are languishing around 22 percent but may narrow the opposition's margin of victory or yet "win" the vote today through massive fraud. Even if he were to lose in the elections Maduro has declared: "Were we to lose, which I find unimaginable, I will govern with the people in a civilian-military alliance." Civil society and the democratic opposition need to do much more to ensure that the votes of Venezuelans today and their right to vote are respected. These are contested elections in a country with an anti-democratic regime in power.

Maduro's PSUV campaigning on election day in violation of the law
The Maduro regime has demonstrated once again today that it does not respect the rule of law when it comes to the ruling party and its own regime. There have been reports that the military have blocked entry of opposition poll watchers to the polling stations. According to Venezuelan electoral law campaigning should have ended on Thursday night at midnight, but Maduro's political party has set up campaigning tents near voting centers today drawing complaints from citizens in Caracas, La Florida, and elsewhere. Reports have emerged of voting centers with broken equipment and voter intimidation by PSUV supporters. Attorney Edicson Cubillan and Franklin Gavidia of the opposition Democratic Unity were detained  in Aragua when they opposed massive "assisted voting."

Former presidents from Latin America, Luis Alberto Lacalle of Uruguay, Andrés Pastrana of Colombia, Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica had their credentials suspended and Diosdado Cabello called for their expulsion from Venezuela for having criticized the irregularities in the election. 

Venezuelans lining up to vote this morning in legislative elections (Photo: RMP)
Human rights defender Santiago A. Canton gave seven reasons in an article in CNN en Español on why the Venezuelan elections will not be free, or transparent or fair because of the actions taken by the Maduro regime to compromise them before election day: 
(1) Ballot positioning: the ruling party is highlighted in the first ballot box, the main opposition party gets lost among countless squares, colors and symbols of minor parties. 
(2) Mainstream media controlled by Maduro. Since 2000 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, have reiterated the lack of freedom of expression in Venezuela. On November 30, 2015 international reporters were required to sign a good conduct pledge before the election.
(3) Political violence and intimidation are constant. Opposition candidate Luis Manuel Diaz was assassinated. President Nicolas Maduro said that the murder of Diaz was due to a clash between gangs
(4.) Maduro set the clock back in Latin America three decades, when he did not accept international election observation
(5) Leopoldo Lopez, one of the leading opposition leaders remains in prison  despite  complaints from the UN, the IACHR and human rights organizations. Next to him are about seventy others made up of political leaders and students. Lopez was sentenced to 13 years, 9 months, 7 days and 12 hours in prison in a political show trial. 
(6) Several opposition leaders have been declared ineligible to be candidates in the elections by Maduro including popular candidates Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza and more recently María Corina Machado. Regional human rights courts found Maduro's disqualification procedure running afoul of the American Convention.
(7) State of siege extended to 23 municipalities in the states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure, prohibiting, among others the rights to public assembly, of transit and to demonstrate peacefully. In these municipalities the military is the "sole authority" that responds directly to Nicolas Maduro who appointed them.
These are some of the reasons that international organizations have expressed their concerns about today's legislative elections and are trying to assist with observers. María Corina Machado over twitter yesterday explained the stakes: "Win by a landslide or a monumental fraud will be done that we will not accept." 

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