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It’s time for free elections

Nicolás Maduro and allies in a ruling party meeting. Photo from Crónica Uno.

On September 12, 2022, within the framework of a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) political meeting, Nicolás Maduro announced that presidential elections will be held in Venezuela in 2024, and joint elections of deputies to the National Assembly, governors, and mayors, during 2025. These declarations were issued in absence of prior pronouncement by the National Electoral Council, so they manifest as direct orders to the electoral authority, breaching the principle of separation of powers.

Maduro’s interference in the definition of the electoral agenda goes beyond a problem of democratic institutions that has been deteriorating for years with no prospect of improvement, but instead crudely repositions on the political scene the most basic human rights issues that impede Venezuelans’ right to choose their public authorities.

In the case of the presidential elections, Maduro’s statements reiterate his willingness to undergo the vote on his own terms, that is, evading the existing restrictions that prevent any possibility of free, authentic, and universal elections in Venezuela. It is worth remembering that there are more than 4 million Venezuelans abroad who do not participate in elections, that arbitrary interventions within opposition candidates and parties continue, or that the Supreme Court of Justice and the National Electoral Council, following the system of justice reforms, are still filled with government supporters.

In the case of “mega-elections”, such conditions make it easier for the government to simultaneously seize most of the political spaces without worrying about any institutional or civil check that forces it to compete, as an election requires. This type of “election”, in addition to the technical and political challenges that it entails, results in the absence of clear and fair electoral schedules, thereby increasing the levels of opacity and arbitrariness over the different electoral phases and activities, to the detriment of the opposition parties.

The coincidence of the year is not a problem for constitutional or international human rights law. What is serious and imminent is the risk of intensifying the circuit of authoritarian power in Venezuela, which would escalate to a new phase with a pseudo-presidential election and then the arbitrary merger of three different processes under the same “election.” The Maduro government has just ratified before the UPR that it will not implement reforms to allow free elections[1] and has reaffirmed its willingness to remain this way upon its political announcement on September 12.

As happened at the end of the UPR, the government once again sends key messages in the electoral field in the midst of political efforts aimed at restoring the negotiating initiative in Mexico. It is the State’s strategic position to unleash stronger threats in order not to lose power, or at its best, to grant insignificant concessions.

This modus operandi cannot continue to be installed with impunity in front of the international community. There are already many experiences and mistakes that are repeated. As a starting point, the political crisis should not be handled behind the UN, so its highest political levels, along with the international community support, should get involved by assuming as guidelines the EU Election Observation Mission recommendations to turn them into a roadmap towards 2024 and beyond at the electoral level.

A UN’s more active commitment and its strategic articulation with the international community around a clear and shared agenda is one of the necessary conditions to move towards a structural and proactive response paradigm transcending the precarious approach of mitigating the complex humanitarian emergency consequences. It is time to reorient our efforts as allies for democracy in Venezuela to attack the deepest root of this multidimensional crisis: the concentration of political power.