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A consultation to defraud/avoid/simulate (use your favorite verb) the elections

We have to prepare to win the elections (…) this year no matter what.Nicolas Maduro

Meeting of NA deputies with a selected opposition to discuss the electoral calendar – Photo EFE

Although the phrase that heads this analysis seems very recent, it is from December 6, 2015, in the context of the parliamentary elections held in Venezuela at that time. The expression “by hook or by crook” uttered by Maduro in the first week of February 2024 is a reissue of what he said in 2015 and reflects his undemocratic attitude. In 2015 the opposition obtained the majority in the National Assembly (NA), but Maduro and the ruling party were responsible for making its functioning unviable, leading to the imprisonment of deputies, violating their parliamentary immunity and forcing many other parliamentarians into exile. That is, maintaining de facto control “no matter what.”

Although the Barbados agreement establishes that the date of the elections must be in the second half of 2024, Jorge Rodríguez, in his dual capacity as head of the government representation in negotiations with the opposition and president of the NA, called for a consultation in order to set the date of the presidential elections. The consultation, as usually happens, was not inclusive and only seeks to justify, with the presence of an opposition to the measure, which includes various political parties, but whose leadership was imposed by the Supreme Court of Justice, as well as businessmen, unions and other social organizations openly allied with the government.

It is these exclusive consultations, in which many only participate out of opportunism or in the hope of sharing a slice of power, that have caused a fracture in civil society understood in a broad sense. Chavismo understood years ago that it must and can divide its critics and that, those it does not co-opt through blackmail and mocked promises of coexistence, can and must be suffocated.

That is why the bill on supervision, regularization, performance, and financing of non-governmental and related organizations also advances with a pseudo consultation. Although it is true that it is a project that cannot withstand modifications since it is unacceptable from beginning to end, the NA did not even take the trouble to simulate a broad consultation. The “consultation” is being carried out without the text of the project having been disseminated by official media, and in closed spaces to which independent civil society does not have access.

Thus, consultation is a hollow ritual that for more than two decades has been invoked by the government only for the purpose of legitimizing decisions already made and generating new conditions of exclusion, stigmatization, and retaliation against those who do not agree.

Returning to the case of the presidential election, all those attending the consultation, supposedly autonomous in their criteria, proposed dates for the presidential election outside the date range agreed in Barbados, except for an “opposition” party that proposed July 28, the birthday by Hugo Chávez. In this way, the government will consider this consultation an endorsement for the advancement of the election date, regardless of what was agreed in Barbados and outside the powers of the National Electoral Council in the matter. An early presidential election could have several restrictive consequences on the right to vote and participation, as presented below.

One of the proposed dates is not even Sunday, which could be a barrier for many workers, especially outside Venezuela, where employers have no obligation to grant permits for these types of activities.

Furthermore, the possibility of independent international observation could be compromised since these types of delegations have to establish their schedules well in advance.

Registration in the electoral registry (ER) may also be affected, which, according to the law, must be closed 30 days following the call of the electoral process, since this cut is necessary to be able to advance in other stages of the preparation of process. Likewise, updating the registration of voters abroad would be impossible, affecting the right to vote of more than 4 million voters.

The government’s “consultations” could put Venezuela facing tailored elections in every sense: without new voters in Venezuela, without updating the ER of voters abroad, without independent international observation, without opposition candidate and even with high abstention if it is done on a weekday, in such a way that the largest consultation to decide the direction of the country will also be an arbitrary exercise and void of content.

The international community must remain attentive to each and every stage of the process towards the elections in Venezuela, where the qualification of candidates is one of many factors to be considered.