Venezuela: Parliamentary Election Hands Total Control to Pro-Chavez Parties as Opposition Parties Boycott

Article excerpt

Every seat in the Venezuelan Asamblea Nacional (AN) has gone to parties favoring President Hugo Chavez after Dec. 4 congressional elections. Several opposition parties boycotted the vote, complaining of unfair conditions leading up to the balloting and effectively locking themselves out of electoral power. Voter absenteeism reached about 75%, leading several international monitoring groups and commentators to express concern about popular political involvement in Venezuela.

The vote resulted in Chavez's Movimiento V Republica (MVR), or Fifth Republic Movement, winning 114 seats and allied parties winning the rest of the seats in the 167-seat unicameral Congress. The win will probably help Chavez win more terms in the Miraflores presidential palace, if the Congress passes reforms changing the 1999 Constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term in 2012 without having to call a referendum. Chavez will be running for re-election in 2006.

International monitors say vote "fair, transparent"

International monitoring groups, such as those from the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS), ultimately reported that the election was fair, with European observers saying on Dec. 6 that they were fair and transparent despite opposition claims of irregularities and a low voter turnout.

Jose Silva, head of the EU team, said the vote was clean, and he praised the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE). "For us, there was transparency in the electoral process," said Silva, who oversaw about 160 observers. He said, however, that many Venezuelans did not trust the nation's election system, leading them to abstain from voting.

The Dec. 4 voter turnout of about 25% was lower than in recent Venezuelan congressional elections in 1998 and 2000, when about 50% to 60% turned out. The abstention rate during nonpresidential elections last year was about two-thirds, but the new high this month led international observers to express apprehensions regarding the Venezuelan political climate, though they did not question the legitimacy of the AN election.

Observer criticisms about Chavez's media usage did cause a rhetorical clash between the president and the international groups. Chavez accused the observers from the EU and the OAS of being part of a US-backed plan "to destabilize" Venezuela, saying they belonged to "parties of the extreme right" and their reports contained "lies."

The EU noted that Chavez's government used television and radio broadcasts as "an excessive resource" during the election campaign. The OAS delegation observed "political propaganda from high-level public officials, including federal, state, and municipal officials."

Chavez defended his right to appear on TV--something he does almost daily--and denied that he urged Venezuelans to vote for pro-government candidates. "The observers accuse me of having an excessive presence on television and radio," Chavez said. "Do they want me to remain quiet? I never called on people to vote for anyone, I called for participation."

The EU report also characterized the private media as "frequently neglecting basic journalistic principles" by expressing open preference for opposition politicians in their broadcasts.

Some pro-Chavez commentators, including Chavez, minimized the importance of the low turnout, saying it merely reflected the voter apathy that traditionally accompanies nonpresidential races. In municipal elections in 2004, over 60% of eligible voters did not come to the polls, just a few months after a record number had mobilized to decide a recall referendum against Chavez (see NotiSur, 2004-08-20 and 2005-11-19). The abstention rate was compounded by the noncompetitive nature of the race, with only 3.6 million of the country's 14.4 million eligible voters participating.

CNE president Jorge Rodriguez said weather conditions were also partly responsible for the low turnout in the vote. …