In their follow-up report presented on 3 December, International IDEA and UCAB regret that the recommendations presented by the Study Mission at the beginning of the campaign, aimed at overcoming the weaknesses in the system and the electoral process, have not been heeded. The follow-up report once again urges people to vote, to trust the secrecy of the ballot, to avoid violence, to make every effort possible for election day to progress normally and end with results that truly reflect the sovereign decision of the Venezuelan people.
When presenting its follow-up report on conditions of the electoral process at the close of the campaign, the Study Mission, made up of election experts from International IDEA and the Center for Political Studies at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB), voiced its concern at that fact that the list of recommendations presented on 16 November this year has been ignored. These recommendations were aimed at reinforcing the integrity, transparency and fairness of the electoral process so as to foster acceptance of the results.
“The Venezuelan electoral process and the elections on 6 December suffer from serious weaknesses that could affect the integrity and credibility of the results,” according to the report by the International Study Mission of International IDEA and UCAB presented at a press conference by Benigno Alarcón, director of the Center for Political Studies at UCAB, and Daniel Zovatto, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean of International IDEA.
They reminded their audience that, given the serious questions raised concerning the Venezuelan electoral system and the absence of any international electoral observation missions by international agencies well known in the field, the presence of an international intergovernmental agency such as International IDEA, in a strategic alliance with UCAB, is important in order to provide Venezuela and the world with reliable and detailed information concerning the conditions surrounding the Venezuelan electoral process. On the eve of the elections on 6 December an effort has been made to achieve this presence in the form of a high-level study mission. It is not the traditional electoral observation mission. It is, rather, a study mission made up of researchers, analysts and experienced former electoral authorities who will analyse the conditions surrounding the electoral campaign and the period just before it from the standpoint of electoral integrity, for the purpose of offering recommendations aimed at improving the integrity, transparency, and fairness of the process and the trustworthiness and credibility of the results.
Recommendations at the beginning of the election campaign
On Monday, 16 November, three days after the campaign began, the Study Mission presented the conclusions of its Preliminary Report on Conditions for the 2015 Electoral Process, summarizing them in the following words: “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 of the conditions surrounding the electoral contest.”
The Members of this Study Mission focused their report on ten recommendations, delivered immediately to the National Electoral Council (CNE), which, if implemented –and, in the Mission’s opinion, there was still time to do so— would have helped bolster the people’s confidence in the election process and the agency in charge of elections.
The main recommendations for the campaign consisted of asking the CNE to: (i) prevent unfair advantage, guaranteeing fairness for all political organizations and equitable access to the public media; (ii) conduct a vigorous campaign publicizing the secrecy of the vote; (iii) launch a campaign aimed at helping avoid voter confusion regarding the choices on the ballot; (iv) reinforce training of personnel at the polling stations; (v) strengthen and expand international electoral observation, and (vi) draw up, before election day, a clear-cut procedure for dealing with electoral disputes.
Moreover, the Study Mission, in line with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, asked the national government to lift or suspend the state of emergency decreed in municipalities along the Colombian border in order to guarantee full respect for civil and political rights.
In the follow-up report at the close of the election campaign, and with just three days left until election day on 6 December, prompted once again by a spirit of providing constructive proposals, the Study Mission has the following comments:
- To begin with, the Mission is concerned to see that, not only did the CNE ignore the recommendation regarding a vigorous campaign that would build confidence in ballot secrecy, but it proceeded to launch an inquiry against the UCAB, banning Venezuela Electoral Integrity Project’s advertisements aimed at encouraging people to vote and assuring them that that their ballots are secret.
- Secondly, it was found that the measures adopted by the CNE to prevent voter confusion concerning the options on the ballot sheet have been neither sufficient nor effective.
- Third, despite the fact that the CNE suspended some advertisements in audio-visual and print media —with suspensions on the rise in recent hours— we feel that the passive attitude adopted regarding the issue of preventing and penalizing the use of government resources by the President of the Republic, government officials and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates is a matter of concern. The CNE’s weak reaction in the face of this situation has not prevented the unfair advantage mentioned in our preliminary report as one of the main weaknesses of the Venezuelan electoral process.
- Fourth, the CNE neither increased nor strengthened international electoral observation; quite the contrary, it imposed conditions for international accompaniment that are far removed from international standards for independent electoral observation. Although the Unasur mission has made a major effort to listen to the actors taking part in the electoral contest and to act impartially, as recently stated by the Head of Mission, the presence of other institutions with long traditions and widely acknowledged prestige in the area of electoral observation, such as the OAS and the European Union, would have provided additional guarantees for the upcoming elections on December 6th.
- Given these limitations, electoral observation by local organizations now becomes essential to be able to make a record of the circumstances surrounding the elections and the trustworthiness of the results. Unfortunately, up to the release date for this report, this Study Mission has been told of delays and problems involving the CNE’s delivery of credentials that would allow those organizations to carry out their work at the voting centers around the country, as well as limits being set to the number of authorized observers for each organization. This situation, which was not covered in the preliminary report, adds another concern to those felt by this Study Mission given that measures such as these seriously hinder the participation by Venezuelan civil society organizations in observing the country’s elections.
- Moreover, we are sorry to see that the government has kept —and extended the duration of— the state of emergency in border municipalities in Amazonas, Apure, Táchira and Zulia States. Although, to date, this situation has not had negative consequences for the election campaign, it has made the atmosphere during the campaign more tense and has caused some political and social actors to curtail their electoral activities. Furthermore, leaving these measures in place on election day could leave the door open for irregularities on 6 December by preventing full exercise of civil and political rights.
“It is with great concern that we have found that violence has been one of the distinctive features of this election campaign, especially in the case of political discourse. We at International IDEA and UCAB join the many voices of those who, both inside and outside Venezuela, have condemned these actions and called for responsible behaviour by the Venezuelan authorities to prevent violence from becoming the distinguishing feature of election day or the post-election period. In this regard, the Study Mission asked that firm, diligent action, in keeping with the law, be taken to guarantee all Venezuelan citizens, regardless of their political preference or area of the country where they are located, full exercise of their civil and political rights on this upcoming election day,” Alarcón said while presenting the follow-up report.
The Study Mission, in line with its focus on offering proposals and being proactive, now that this important election on 6 December is just hours away, wishes to insist upon some of the recommendations made in the preliminary report while, at the same time, presenting new proposals addressed not only to the CNE and to the national government, but also to the people and the principal actors in this election process:
- “To the people: You are the main protagonists of this process. We invite you to play the role that, as such, you are called upon to play in every election, not only by voting with your conscience, but also by taking part in all citizen activities involving the elections, which also includes acting as observers —something that neither the international nor the domestic organizations may fully do due to the restrictions to which they have been subjected— documenting and reporting any irregularities you see. We also invite you to go to your polling center to take part in the citizen audits that begin when the ballot stations close down, as provided for in the electoral laws and regulations.
- To the National Electoral Council: In accordance with article 293 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the CNE must guarantee the principles of equality, reliability, impartiality, transparency and efficiency of the electoral processes. As already mentioned in our Preliminary Report, the passivity shown by the CNE —attributed by that agency to alleged flaws in the electoral laws and regulations— is not acceptable because your institutional authority stems from the constitutional rules and principles designed to prevent violence and guarantee the fairness, integrity and transparency of the election process and, moreover, to ensure that the results are honoured. If there is will, there is time, before the elections, for the CNE to implement several of the recommendations made in our preliminary report, which we will now list once again: (i) reinforce a campaign regarding the secrecy of the ballot; and (ii) reinforce the training of the polling-station personnel to prevent potential overreaching by witnesses, polling centre coordinators or Plan República military personnel.
On the eve of the elections on 6 December, we wish to insist on our recommendations to the CNE, especially those concerning: (i) Strict enforcement of the rules concerning how polling centers work and closing times; (ii) preventing misuse of voter assistance; (iii) demanding strict compliance with the rules governing the activities of the Plan República and polling centre coordinators; and (iv) guaranteeing freedom of election-day coverage by the media, both local and foreign. Furthermore, the CNE must guarantee the right to vote of those who are imprisoned but are not the subject of a final court decision that would prevent them from exercising their rights under article 64 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as well as articles 39, 42, 62 and 63 of the same Constitution.
We also recommend that, after December 6th, the CNE reach an agreement with —not impose upon— all the political actors concerning the specific methodology to be followed for the audit of reports of fingerprint-related incidents and guarantee that the results are honoured.
- To the National Armed Force: Article 328 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela states that:
“The National Armed Force is an essentially professional institution, without political affiliation, organized by the State to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Nation and safeguard the integrity of the geographical space, by means of military defence, cooperation in maintaining internal order and an active participation in national development in accordance with this Constitution and the law. In the performance of its duties, it is at the exclusive service of the Nation and never at the service of any individual or political preference whatsoever….”
In addition, article 330 of the same document provides that:
“The members of the National Armed Force who are on active duty have the right to vote as provided for by law, but are not allowed to run for public office or take part in activities involving political propaganda, membership or proselytizing.”
Guided by these principles, the Bolivarian National Armed Force plays an important role during electoral processes through the program called Plan República, which, among other responsibilities, is entrusted with keeping public order, watching over the safety of people at the polling centred, as well as the transportation and custody of the electoral material. In this regard, it is important to remember that there is a clear line between the duties of the Plan República and those of the polling-station personnel, and that it is the latter who are in charge of making decisions regarding any contingency, the time at which the polling stations close, and how to handle the audits by the citizens.
- To the National Executive: We respectfully request, once again, the lifting of the state of emergency in place in Amazonas, Apure, Táchira and Zulia States, as that would allow the political organizations full freedom to carry out their activities on election day and would allow the citizens to fully exercise the civil and political rights they have under the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Moreover, as the elections on December 6th are parliamentary elections, it is important that a clear distinction be made between the actions of the President of the Republic as head of state and of the National Executive, on the one hand, and those as president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, on the other. The Study Mission is concerned over the role that the President of the Republic has played during the election campaign as well as by the lack of a clear distinction between campaigning and official government ceremonies where PSUV candidates have been included, public works are inaugurated with their participation and, furthermore, messages are transmitted that do not contribute to creating the proper atmosphere of peace and calm on the eve of election day on December 6th.
In this regard, this Study Mission endorses the statements made on November 30th by the Rector of Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Reverend Father Francisco José Virtuoso, S.J., and respectfully asks the President of the Republic to put an end to the belligerent calls for action on the streets, and to contribute, from the majesty of his office, by issuing a call to honour the sovereign will of the voters and for peace and understanding among all Venezuelans.”
In the conclusions to its follow-up report, the Study Mission, once again, wishes to issue the following appeal to the people in general and, most especially, to all the political actors taking part in the electoral process: “If these elections are held under conditions considered trustworthy by all, there will be less apprehension, paving the way for an environment that favours credibility of the process and acceptance of the results, all of which will foster conditions for reinstating dialogue and favouring reconciliation after December 6th.... In keeping with the spirit of providing constructive proposals on which the work of this Study Mission is based, we sincerely hope that on Sunday, 6 December the men and women of Venezuela will enjoy a true democratic celebration. This being the case, we once again call upon the people to go vote with the assurance that their vote is secret and that, by voting, they can decide their fate. ”