Launching of a vigorous campaign to publicize voting secrecy, guaranteeing effective conditions of fairness for all political organizations, strengthening international observation and lifting the state of emergency in place in border states, are the main recommendations in the Study Mission’s proposal to Venezuelan government authorities.
3 December update
“In a spirit of offering proposals, this Study Mission recommends that top priority be assigned to four aspects for guaranteeing the integrity and credibility of the elections on December 6th: That the National Electoral Council (CNE) launch a wide-spread campaign publicizing vote secrecy; that it prevent unfair advantages, guaranteeing fair conditions by banning the use of government resources, and allowing balanced candidate access to the media during the election campaign; the strengthening and expansion of international electoral observation; and the lifting or suspension by the government of the state of emergency in municipalities in the border states, in order to guarantee full civil and political rights,” Daniel Zovatto, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), announced at a press conference in Caracas.
These are the top four recommendations in a set of proposals laid out in the report by a Study Mission made up of election experts from the Center for Political Studies at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and from International IDEA —an intergovernmental organization, with 28 member states and headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, whose mission is to support sustainable democracy worldwide.
Benigno Alarcón, Director of the Center for Political Studies at UCAB, explained that the Study Mission analyzed the conditions surrounding this electoral process, interviewing major actors in the country and the region, consulting reports by specialized local groups, and visiting some of the electoral districts. The main documents consulted include those by the Venezuela Electoral Integrity Project and the Report of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security. The recommendations aimed at overcoming the weaknesses in the short term are the end result of the mission’s fieldwork during two visits, one during the last week of October and the other in the second week of November.
Strengths and weaknesses of the electoral process
Alarcón pointed out that the main purpose of the UCAB- International IDEA Mission was to prepare a diagnosis of the electoral process, covering both its strengths and weaknesses, and, based on that, be able to identify a set of recommendations aimed at improving the quality of the upcoming legislative elections on December 6th.
If the strength of the Venezuelan electoral process lies in the automated voting and vote-counting system, its greatest weakness lies in the lack of fairness (unfair advantage for the government) of the conditions surrounding the electoral contest, Zovatto said.
According to the Mission’s report, the electoral process suffers from serious weaknesses and distortions that affect the integrity, transparency and fairness of the process. If not corrected on time, these could compromise the legitimacy and credibility of the December 6 elections.
The Study Mission identified 10 major weaknesses and distortions, namely: (i) questions raised concerning the procedure for appointing the electoral authorities and limited impartiality of the CNE; (ii) an electoral roll that has not undergone an independent audit since 2005; (iii) doubts concerning voting secrecy, misuse of assisted voting, and risk of confusion regarding placement of choices on the ballot); (iv) obvious unfairness of the electoral contest, use of government resources to favor parties and political projects; unfair access to media; and lack of proper regulation of party and campaign financing; (v) refusal to register parties and disqualification of candidates); (vi) inappropriate interference by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in the internal workings of political organizations; (vii) unclear procedures for settlement of electoral disputes; (viii) belated and inequitable regulations regarding gender equality for nominations; (ix) lack of proportionality of the electoral system; and (x) state-of-emergency decrees and their impact on the election process.
Zovatto explained that the Study Mission’s report is not limited to simply pointing out the distortions and weakness affecting the election process, but goes on to propose a set of recommendations that could be implemented during the campaign and on election day itself. “If there’s a will, there’s time,” he pointed out.
The first proposal, to be implemented immediately, involves having the CNE launch a vigorous campaign publicizing the secrecy of the vote. “Although this is something that is guaranteed, there is a widespread impression among the people that this is not the case. That is why a public campaign to bolster certainty that votes are secret is so important,” he stated.
The second recommendation has to do with preventing an unfair advantage, guaranteeing fair conditions. Unfair advantages (rules that are not the same for all) favoring the administration continue to be one of the main issues affecting the quality of elections in Venezuela, This, together, with electoral laws and regulations that are weak in this area and a CNE that, so far, has failed in its responsibility to make full use of its authority in this regard.
“We have observed several examples of behavior involving use and misuse of government resources and, specifically, of candidates accompanied by government officials during campaign activities who even make use of mandatory radio and TV broadcasts (cadenas). Under the Electoral Processes Act and the Anti-Corruption Act, during the campaign the CNE, the Office of the Comptroller General and the Office of the Prosecutor General are supposed to take firm, coordinated and timely action to penalize those who use government property to favor political organizations,” he said.
In this context the Mission’s request to the CNE is that it not turn a blind eye or show a passive attitude when electoral laws on this issue are being broken, recommending that the agency immediately take the necessary measures to prevent government events, such as inaugurations of public works, the handing out of social assistance, distribution of merchandise and food, etc., from being used for election purposes.
The third recommendation involves strengthening and expanding international electoral observation. The Mission regrets that the CNE has failed to invite highly-regarded international electoral observation organizations to send missions to Venezuela. Organizations such as the OAS and the EU have extensive and proven, professional and impartial experience in electoral observation, and their presence in the country would, unquestionably, help endow the process and its results with greater credibility.
The fourth recommendation, in line with the request made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is that the government revoke or suspend the state of emergency in the municipalities of the border states where it has been decreed. This would allow the political organizations to have full freedom to carry out their activities, both before the elections and on election day, thus enabling the people to fully exercise their civil and political rights under the National Constitution.
The list of recommendations being presented by UCAB and IDEA also include: a campaign aimed at helping avoid voter confusion regarding the choices on the ballot; strict enforcement of the rules concerning how polling centers work and closing times; preventing improper use of voter assistance; reinforcing training of personnel manning the polling stations, and demanding strict compliance with the rules governing the activities of the Plan República military personnel guarding the polling stations and the polling-center coordinators.
The Mission also considers that the CNE should, before election day, draw up a clear-cut procedure for dealing with electoral disputes.
Lastly, Zovatto urged the National Electoral Council, in its capacity as the agency in charge of elections, to guarantee the integrity, transparency and fairness of this process for the election of the new members of parliament. “If these elections are held under conditions considered trustworthy by all, there will be less apprehension, paving the way for an environment that favors credibility of the process and acceptance of the results, all of which will foster conditions for reinstating dialogue and favoring reconciliation after December 6th.”
In closing, Zovatto said that UCAB and International IDEA will continue monitoring the campaign and that, once it ends, they will be updating the Report with an assessment of the campaign and a set of recommendations for election day itself on December 6th.