Venezuelans flock to vote under international scrutiny

Venezuelans elected the state and municipal leaders of the South American country on Sunday, in an election where the presidency of Nicolás Maduro is not at stake, but for many the electoral system of Venezuela will be put to the test – discredited by the disqualification of parties and of some of the most popular opposition candidates – and verify the neatness of the process after years of allegations of abuse.

Voters – wearing masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic – began to arrive early in the morning at the voting centers in Caracas. Many of those voters woke up early, heeded the call of the ruling party, who hours before walked the streets of the city calling to vote at the rhythm of the “bullseye”, a custom imposed by the now deceased President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

“The victory target sounds, the fireworks (fireworks), the heart beats strong. We are going to vote Venezuelans, united for the love of the Fatherland, in Peace and Harmony, “Maduro said on Sunday via Twitter.

State and municipal elections, which are usually held separately and abstention has been high in the past. In the rarefied electoral climate in Venezuela, the process could be considered successful if it exceeds 50%.

The ruling party, which controls almost all the institutions (mayors, governorships and the National Assembly), is the favorite to win most of the positions. Among more than 70,200 candidates, 3,082 positions will be chosen, including 23 governors, 335 mayors, 253 legislators from state councils and 2,471 municipal councilors. At its peak, the opposition conquered six governorships and 76 mayors in 2008 and 2013, respectively.

The elections are monitored by hundreds of observers, among which the members of a European Union mission stand out – among other independent organizations – in response to a long-standing demand from the opponents of the socialist government.

The EU, motivated by the talks in Mexico, accepted the invitation of the Venezuelan authorities. The bloc, which last year did not recognize the legislative elections, had not participated in a Venezuelan electoral process since 2006.

The European mission will release a preliminary report on Wednesday and next year will present its conclusions and make recommendations for future elections. For years, the elections were “accompanied” by observers, mostly members of multilateral and regional electoral bodies close to the Venezuelan Executive.

The elections also mark the return to the electoral path of the main opposition parties, which since 2017 had boycotted the electoral processes, arguing that there were not sufficient conditions to guarantee that the elections were fair and transparent.

The decision to participate was announced in August after months of initial backstage talks between allies of former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and senior officials in the Maduro government, who made some concessions. In parallel, the allies of the socialist president met with representatives of the opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Later, Guaidó’s allies and the government formalized and began dialogues in Mexico.

Regardless of the results, the elections could mark the emergence of new opposition leaderships, consolidate others and draw the lines to be followed by Maduro’s adversaries, who came to these elections decimated by internal fractures, mostly linked to their failed attempts to evicting Chávez’s heirs, who have dominated the political scene since 1999, from power.

A close fight for second place is predicted in most of the electoral districts of the country, and this because ‘it will symbolically mean’ which is ‘the second force’ in the country and which segment of the opposition represents it, ”he said. Venezuelan academic Félix Seijas, director of the statistical research firm Delphos.

The voting process will take place between 6 in the morning (10:00 GMT) and 6 in the afternoon (22:00 GMT), although it could be extended beyond that time in any of the 14,202 centers where they exist voters to vote. The electoral authorities reported that 76% of the voting tables were open before 8 in the morning.

The first results bulletin was expected late at night. Venezuelan law prohibits the dissemination of exit polls before the first official bulletin.