The international community in the face of Venezuela’s Dec. 6 elections
The meager turnout in non-competitive legislative elections is not enough for the regime’s allies and anticipates an uncertain future for the opposition and democratic nations.
By Ingrid Jiménez
In democracy, elections are one of the most important sources of legitimacy; but in Venezuela, in recent years, citizens feel that they lack real power to elect the candidates of their choice and that these, once elected, cannot effectively exercise power. Allegations of fraud, Supreme Court of Justice rulings, in addition to main opposition parties co-opted and intervened, have undermined the nature of vote.
The December 6 parliamentary elections were the least competitive in the last 21 years. As has become a habit, the Supreme Court of Justice designated a National Electoral Council with a pro-government bias, even when the authority to appoint this body lies with the National Assembly.
In addition, custom statutes were enacted to regulate the electoral process. In this regard, the Venezuelan Constitution clearly sets forth that electoral laws may not be modified less than six months prior to the electoral process. There were at least two very significant amendments: The decrease in the percentage of representatives elected nominally from 70% to 48% and the inexplicable increase in the number of representatives to be elected from 167 to 277.
The National Assembly, controlled by the opposition following an overwhelming electoral victory in 2015, became its institutional base and the center of the strategy to effect political change. Congressman Juan Guaidó, Speaker of the National Assembly since 2019, was sworn in as interim president after Maduro’s controversial re-election in 2018. Guaidó was immediately recognized by the United States and numerous democratic countries.
For the 2020 parliamentary elections and in view of the irregularities that have arisen since they were called, the Organization of American States (OAS), the United States, the European Union (EU), the Contact Group (International Contact Group, formed by nations from Latin America and Europe) and the Lima Group (composed of twelve nations from the American continent) urged the government to restore the guarantees and rights that would allow free elections.
The EU was invited by Maduro to observe the elections. As a sign of openness, it sent a mission to the country in order to negotiate a possible postponement of the process for six months. However, the government was adamant and finally the EU informed, in an official statement, that “without a postponement and an improvement in the democratic and electoral conditions, the EU cannot consider sending an electoral observation mission”.
Countries allied with the regime, such as Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba, attended the electoral event as “companions”. They were only present in some poll centers; but they were not authorized to assess the quality of the process from its calling to the counting of votes as it happens with thorough electoral observation. Therefore, their presence did not represent any guarantee of transparency either domestically or abroad.
The emptiness of poll centers throughout the country was the prevailing image of December 6. Turnout was barely 30.5% according to official data and, as expected, ruling party PSUV obtained 67.6% of the votes, granting it an absolute majority of the legislative body.
Chavismo only managed to mobilize its most diehard followers; but the high abstention does not mean a victory for the opposition either. Venezuelan society has been moving away from politics in reason of the weaknesses and inconsistencies displayed by leadership of both the government and the opposition, as well as hopelessness and the challenges of day-to-day survival in a country plagued by hyperinflation and malfunctioning utilities.
For the government, the recovery of the National Assembly is not a lesser goal. Its main international allies require that the agreements entered into be ratified by this Legislative branch, as provided for by the Constitution. Not even the Anti-Blockade Law “enacted” by the spurious National Constituent Assembly, not recognized by relevant stakeholders in the international community, diminishes their concern regarding the unlawfulness of the agreements signed with the Chavista government.
Consequently, it comes as no surprise that Cuba, Russia, and China were the first states to recognize the outcome of December 6, and even China urged the United States to respect Venezuela’s democratic system and practices.
Everything indicates that the states that recognized Juan Guaidó’s interim government will continue to support him when he ceases to be head of the parliament. However, without unity among and internal reorganization of democratic groups, it will be more difficult for the international community to go beyond expressing its rejection of the results of the parliamentary electoral process.
Abstaining on December 6 without devising a political and communication strategy for 2021 complicates the domestic outlook and allows foreseeing the increasing possibility of an interim government in exile. It remains to be seen what the real support of major international stakeholders will be for this new experiment.
Undoubtedly, in 2021, an even harder stage of the Venezuelan political crisis will begin.