CARACAS, Venezuela – By the time you read this – presumably on Monday, Dec. 7 – the results of Venezuela’s nationwide elections for its National Assembly will likely be known to the world.
But as I write, two days before this decisive vote, let me share some thoughts about the process – and about the prognosis.
I have made this trip to Caracas – and later in the week to other sites in Venezuela – with a group of North American activists and writers concerned about learning the truth of what is happening in this country. These elections, two years after Nicolas Maduro very narrowly won the presidency as successor to the late Hugo Chavez, will determine if the Bolivarian process that Chavez initiated in 1998 will be given the chance to advance. If the right-wing opposition – widely reported to be favored and financed by the U.S. and other capitalist powers – wins on Sunday, Dec. 6, progress could be stopped in its tracks with dire consequences for the vast majority of the Venezuelan people.
In the weeks before leaving the U.S. to come here, everything I read in the U.S. corporate media pointed to a loss for the Chavista movement. Venezuelans, these reports assured, had become tired of the shortages of basic goods and staples in the stores, frustrated with everyday violence, outraged by sky-high inflation that makes nonsense of any efforts at price stabilization, and confused by the privately-owned media that pours out a constant blast of criticism of the government’s supposed incompetence.
Frankly, I arrived expecting in a few days to witness “the beginning of the end,” that moment on Dec. 6 when a majority of Venezuelans would decide to put a halt to the whole Bolivarian experiment, make a lame duck of President Maduro, and perhaps prepare the ground for his impeachment, and throw their fates to the waiting opposition.
Now, after a few days here, I am not at all convinced this will happen. If indeed the Chavistas win, which many people we have met so far are sure will be the case, count on the opposition to immediately start yelling “Fraud!” to whoever will listen. The mass media and politicians in the imperialist countries will readily come to the opposition’s defense, for they already “know” all about the origins of the crisis in Chavez’ utopian scheme to tilt his country away from dependency on the U.S., and to lead the rest of Latin America toward a self-sufficiency that is free – what a crazy concept! – from U.S.-dominated Western Hemispheric trade alliances and investment loans.
The justification for “humanitarian” intervention – to save Venezuela from its “corrupt elections” and bring the country back into the capitalist fold – has already been carefully established. After all, did not our own President Barack Obama, just a few months ago, declare Venezuela to be an immediate and extraordinary threat to the vital security of the United States and place certain Venezuelan officials on persona non grata status? Although other Latin American nations forced him to retract this statement, the anti-Chavista fever can easily be stoked up again.
The problem is that Venezuela’s electoral process has been analyzed and studied by numerous world bodies and private NGOs, such as the Carter Center, and found to be among the fairest, most democratic, and most fastidiously enforced on the planet. Hugo Chavez was no dictator: He was voted in by enthusiastic majorities time after time. That is what’s so galling to the banksters and loan sharks who have dictated U.S. policy in the hemisphere for so many decades and who now fear the jig may be up.
Our little group of nine met for three hours, on our first full day in the country, with officials of the CNE – Consejo Nacional Electoral, or National Elections Commission – in their busy offices just days before the momentous vote. CNE staff, including the rectora principal, the director Tania D’amelio Cardiet, patiently answered every question we posed. They appeared eager to have their work reliably reported in our media.
In the first place, the CNE directors are appointed to overlapping seven-year terms by the National Assembly. It is autonomous from the government, and only accountable to the specific, detailed electoral law of the land. Venezuela has a plethora of political parties, some running together as a Chavista unity slate with the same candidates (think “fusion parties” in the U.S.), others going it alone. The Chavista slate includes the large socialist PSUV (Maduro’s party) as well as the PCV, the Communist Party of Venezuela. Each of the 23 states in the country, plus the Distrito Capital (Caracas), has its own concatenation of parties, each state entitled to the number of National Assembly members according to its population.
The total number of National Assembly members is 167, of whom 113 are voted in on the strength of their own names, 51 elected from party lists according to the popularity of those parties in the overall voting, and 3 seats designated for Indigenous peoples.
At the time Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998, some 28 percent of eligible voters were not registered. Now only 3 percent are unregistered. In presidential elections 80 percent of the approximately 19.5 million voters in the country vote; for National Assembly elections the turnout is over 70 percent. Even in elections for much lower offices the turnout is around 60 percent.
Demographically, 51 percent of voters are women, and almost 4 million are young voters 18-30). Women enter their “senior” years in Venezuela at age 55, with the right to start receiving a pension, and men at age 60. Some of us “seniors” in our study group qualify to ride the modern, efficient Metro system in Caracas for free.
Once voters arrive at one of the 14,515 polling sites around the country, where qualified officials run 40,601 separate precinct tables, they identify themselves with their national ID card, place their thumb into a machine which reads their fingerprint, thus confirming who they are, and enter the voting booth where they have up to 6 minutes to cast their electronic ballot (most people take under a minute). When they finish, they receive a printout of their vote to confirm their choices, and they deposit this slip into the ballot box. At the end of the day the electronic vote and the paper ballots should match exactly. Witnesses from the participating parties are entitled to observe this entire process to certify its veracity.
Not entirely as a parenthetical note, readers should know that presumably voters going to the polls are completely sober: There is no liquor legally sold throughout the country for three days, from 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday – not even to us innocent visiting non-nationals!
Immediately after the votes are recorded and reported, an automatic audit takes place of 53.3 percent of all the precincts, randomly chosen from around the country, to spot any conceivable irregularities. Within a few weeks a 100 percent audit takes place. All parties in the elections have signed on to these carefully thought-out and elegantly devised mechanisms, regarded – to repeat myself – as among the most democratic in the world.
Later in the day, we attended the huge public rally officially closing the electoral campaign, where Maduro spoke and revved up his thousands of supporters in the capital, a flock of colorful flags and banners proudly whipping in the breeze, the red-shirted crowds gaily chanting, singing and cheering. Their infectious joy helped to persuade me that this election is very much up for grabs. A Chavista win is hardly out of the question!
Whatever the result on Dec. 6, whether a victory for the Bolivarian Revolution or for its opposition, you can be assured that there was no question of fraud. If you hear that claim, don’t believe it, and start asking serious questions of anyone making it. It ain’t so.
Photo: A rally for Maduro in the 2013 election campaign. Joka Madruga / TerraLivrePress.com / Flickr/Creative Commons