On Tuesday, February 22, the European Union Electoral Observation Mission (EU-EOM) issued its final report on the regional and municipal elections held on November 21, 2021, based on the on-the-ground monitoring of 134 observers who covered the situation in the 23 states and the Capital District of the country.
The Mission reported progress in electoral conditions, such as the new composition of the CNE, the audits carried out, and a partial update of the electoral registry, but noted “structural shortcomings” such as “the lack of legal certainty, the extensive use of State resources in the campaign and the unequal access to the mass media by candidates”. These observations, already noted during the preliminary report of November 23, 2011, were extensively developed in an 88-page document.
Despite the relative progress, the weight of the report fell on the absence of institutional and substantive guarantees to hold elections. The EOM-UE highlighted the role played by the Supreme Court in restricting the opposition by handing over control of the party’s identity and the use of its symbols to dissident minority factions and then nullifying the elections in the state of Barinas after the victory of opposition leader Freddy Superlano. It also questioned the role of the Comptroller General of the Republic in preventing 16 opposition candidates from standing in the elections through disqualifications that were not notified, which are added to previous arbitrary disqualifications of several members of the National Assembly in 2015.
The EU-EOM reported “people being pressured or paid to attend party events, while the opposition’s freedom of movement was limited by a lack of financial and material resources, including fuel rationing.” It highlighted the impact in terms of freedom of expression and political participation as well. Self-censorship in 21 states, and the change of some media outlets’ editorial line in 13 states, restricted plurality, and access to information, favoring government coverage.
The “Law against Hatred” as well as the “Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media” were expressly pointed out by the EOM-EU as a “serious threat” to conversations on the Internet, exercising a role of control and chilling effect to express freely on situations that make the government uncomfortable. These laws, “and especially the lack of judicial independence and non-adherence to the rule of law, unfavorably affected the level playing field and the fairness and transparency of the elections”.
These normative and practical conditions were sufficient for the main recommendation of the EOM-EU to have been “to enhance the separation of powers and the confidence in the independence of the Supreme Court” in order to avoid interference in the electoral power. The recommendation is in line with what the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has maintained for more than a decade regarding the need to reestablish democratic institutions, promoting the immediate independence of public powers and the consolidation of a system of checks and balances that guarantees human rights, in particular the civil liberties of all dissidents to the government.
AlertaVenezuela calls on the international community to continue advocating for structural reforms that ensure authentic elections in Venezuela and endorse the inclusion and participation of civil society in dialogue initiatives to achieve full guarantees for the free exercise of the vote and political participation on an equal basis.