By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s opposition leaders suffered a devastating loss on Sunday, October 15. With reluctant participation by the opposing party, socialist leader Nicolas Maduro staged this election and won by a 17-point margin.
Several national and global actors have denounced the election as fraudulent because it is unbelievable that Venezuelans would legitimately elect this party. The polls showed Maduro ahead by nine points while the official count reported him losing by six. Additionally, reports show only about a fifth of Venezuelans claim to support his government. He is known for abolishing Venezuela’s National Assembly, violently putting down protests, illegally jailing nearly 500 opposition activists, and wiping out any remnants of independent media. Somehow, he still ended up winning two-thirds of the races with 17 of 23 governorships.
A political risk research and consulting firm, Eurasia Group, reported “if the vote were to be completely free and fair, the (opposition) would likely win between 18 and 21 states.”
Venezuela is shocked by these results but does not have any evidence of a sham election. In the past, Maduro’s party was accused of manipulating the election that put him in power. These allegations involved the software company that set up the voting system and found that it miscalculated by one million votes.
In this case, the pre-rigging of the election was not hidden. Authorities under Maduro abruptly moved polling places of more than a half a million voters from anti-government neighborhoods to regime-friendly areas. They also printed ballots with names of opposition candidates who had been defeated in primary voting.
While some opposition leaders denounce this election and demand an independent audit, others have accepted defeat. Many assume that their supporters had fled as refugees or were too disappointed in the government to participate in the election. Because of Maduro’s tainted history, some opposition candidates say they never truly expected to win in a fair election, they just hoped they would gain more power.
This vote allows Maduro to establish the Constituent Assembly, a new institution that is stacked with his supporters and will replace the National Assembly, which was previously filled with his opposition. From this new institution, Maduro has the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution.
This election comes less than three months after the last major vote which ended violently. Protestors clashed with police resulting in the death of six people. Since then, more than 120 people have been killed in protest of their socialist government. Thousands of others have fled the country because of food scarcity, rampant violence, and high inflation.
Since Maduro’s government came into power in July, Venezuela’s democratic credentials have been under scrutiny. Many see this election as a way to affirm Maduro’s power and appear democratic. However, the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, says “you can’t recognize elections in a country where there’s no guarantee for the efficient exercise of democracy.”
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