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Venezuela’s electoral debt: violated rights

Photo: CNE

To the difficult situation that the Venezuelan people are going through, immersed in a complex humanitarian emergency and with a migration that already exceeds seven million people, is added an event that, although it should be a daily procedure in any country, in Venezuela constitutes a challenge of enormous dimensions: the presidential elections of 2024.

The Venezuelan electoral system has not been able to generate confidence in the electorate, nor in the specialized electoral organizations both in Venezuela and internationally. This is due to several causes, some of which are the following:

• Arbitrary disqualification of candidates

• The precariousness of the electoral registry

• The abusive use of public resources in the electoral campaign

• Limitations to electoral observation

Indeed, the political instability that the country is experiencing has worried the United Nations Organization, the European Union and numerous governments, and the unanimous call of all has been for a free and fair election to be held in the country. Even though different high-level organizations were proposed to exercise the role of observation during the recent electoral process in which regional and municipal authorities would be elected, the National Electoral Council only approved the participation of the panel of UN experts and the Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union (EOM), together with few national organizations.

It should be noted that non-national entities are not allowed to exercise an electoral observation process, being limited to what the Organic Law of Electoral Processes calls “electoral accompaniment”, which implies strict supervision by the State of all its activities, public declarations, and the requirement of authorization to determine their displacements in the national territory.

Despite these limitations, the final report of the EOM of the European Union on the regional and municipal elections that took place on November 21, 2021, includes several of the main flaws in the Venezuelan electoral system.

The precariousness of the electoral registry is a fundamental issue. As stated by the European Union Mission:

While the National Electoral Council estimates under-registration at less than 3.4 percent of all eligible citizens, civil society organizations consider that this figure is much higher (two or three million).

These amounts, however, are clearly conservative, and it remains to consider the serious flaws in the registry in terms of the location and the place assigned to vote, since there have been numerous complaints about the arbitrary location of the voting center assigned to each voter by the CNE, which has made it impossible for many voters to vote.

The EOM added:

An overseas voter registration effort would entail overcoming several challenges, such as the need to negotiate with other countries the register operation, the eventual reluctance of some Venezuelans to register, and perhaps the necessity to make the requirements for registration more flexible, admitting not only legal residence permits, Venezuelan identity cards and passports, but also work, study or business visas.

In response to these challenges, the EOM recommended “To provide more options for voters, including Venezuelans living abroad, to update their information outside of election periods, in order to improve the accuracy of the voter register and better gauge voter turnout rates” (bold added).

There are, however, many other factors that distance the Venezuelan electoral system from the criteria of independence, impartiality and transparency: the arbitrary alteration of the electoral dates, the inaction to guarantee the exercise of the vote abroad, the failure to facilitate the inclusion of new voters on the electoral roll are just a few of them. The international community must insist on the need to establish corrective measures for this serious situation, since electoral registration is an integral part of the right to vote, and therefore cannot be subordinated to a negotiating table.