Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly is Sworn in Despite Allegations of Fraud and Authoritarian Acts

By: Max Cohen
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela – Sunday July 30th, 2017, Venezuela changed dramatically. As some protested, other Venezuelans voted in an election to create a Constituent Assembly, with the power to rewrite their country’s constitution, and perhaps most importantly, to oust the current opposition-led National Assembly. The election has since been deemed a fraud, and in the days since the new constituent assembly, the government of Nicolas Maduro have increasingly been engaging in increased unapologetically authoritarian acts.

Former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega is prevented from entering the Public Prosecutor’s office in Caracas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

According to the Venezuelan government, over 8 million people voted in the election, however an independent exit poll puts the turnout at half that number. Additionally, the company that makes the machines which were used in the election has publicly stated that the results were off by at least 1 million people. Two weeks prior, according to opposition leaders, around 7 million people voted in an unofficial referendum to keep the current constitution. Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela’s now former attorney general, was fired by the Assembly in its first session on August 5th, 2017 after promising that she would investigate accusations of voter fraud surrounding the election.

The Venezuelan government has also jailed two critics of Maduro, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma. The two men have been accused of planning to flee the country and of violating their house arrests by making political statements and speaking to media. They were abducted from their homes in nighttime raids by security forces. Ledezma was released on August 4th, and placed back on house arrest. Additionally, two of the judges appointed by the National Assembly to an alternative Supreme Court have taken refuge in the Chilean Embassy and may seek asylum.

Protests and violence raged rampant in the streets during the election, with estimates of those killed in clashes with authorities ranging from 7 to 12 people. One of the candidates in the election was also killed in his home.

As of writing this article the Constituent Assembly has not yet dissolved the current National Assembly. Among the new leaders in the Constituent Assembly are Maduro’s wife and son. Opposition leaders in the National Assembly however, have pledged to remain in power regardless of what actions the Constituent Assembly takes, setting up the possibility of two governing bodies, each not recognizing the other.

For more information, please see:

NBC – Venezuela’s New Constituent Assembly Ousts Anti-Maduro Prosecutor Luisa Ortega – 5 August, 2017

New York Times – Venezuela’s New Leaders Begin Their March Towards Total Control – 4 August, 2017

CNN – Controversial Venezuelan vote to be investigated, attorney general says – 3 August, 2017

Time – Venezuela Heads Toward a Showdown As New Assembly Prepares to Convene – 3 August, 2017 

CBS – Voting machine firm: Venezuela vote rigged “without any doubt” – 2 August, 2017

Reuters – Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents –  1 August, 2017

ABC (Aus) – Venezuela election: Deadly protests mar ballot as voters snub Maduro constituent assembly – 31 July, 2017

CNN – Deadly election day in Venezuela as protestors clash with troops – 30 July, 2017



Resurgent Islamist Party Wins Big in Tunisia’s First Democratic Election

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

TUNIS, Tunisia – Monday was a historic day for Tunisia as the results of its election following January’s revolution were announced.  The moderate Islamist Ennahda party garnered 89 out of 217 seats in the country’s new constituent assembly, more than three times that of the next closest party.  The elected members face the task of assembling a government and writing a new constitution.  More than half of the electorate turned out to vote.

The victory for Ennahda, which had once been banned from taking part in Tunisian politics, marks a comeback for a strong, organized force whose ability to function had been crippled for decades.  Unlike political parties in the United States, Ennahda is also “a social movement,” according to Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University.  This organization “gave it a substantial leg up when it came to organizing dedicated volunteers to motivate voters,” he wrote in a column for Bloomberg.

Ennahda is expected to form a coalition with the next two leading vote-getters, the left-wing Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the Popular Petition.  Negotiations to assemble the new government are still underway, but CPR leader Moncef Marzouki was selected as the interim president.  Marzouki’s position will be largely ceremonial, other than the possibility of mediating disputes between leading parties in the assembly.  Mustapha Ben Jaafar, head of the fourth-place Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties, had been pushed as president, but it bogged down in negotiations.  He has since been offered the position of assembly president, but has yet to accept.  The interim government will also retain defense minister Abdelkrim Zbidi, who has gained respect among Tunisians for using the military to maintain order without being active in the political game.

Two parties ran anti-Islamist platforms, focusing on Ennahda in particular.  They won a combined 21 seats in the new assembly.

“Unlike the young secularists, many Tunisians see Islam as a defining feature of their personal and political identities,” Feldman said in an effort to explain why Ennahda faired so well.  “Islamists are also highly skilled at reaching across economic and social classes to build support. In poor rural areas, the mosque is sometimes the only gathering place, and Islam can be leveraged to provide a simple, time-tested and powerful political message.”

The elections were highly organized, even though the North African country had only four months to do so.  Kamel Jendoubi, leader of the election commission, said his group “clearly contributed to restoring the trust of Tunisians in their electoral process.”  He told the Associated Press that he planned to ask the assembly to make the commission a permanent aspect of future contests.

The assembly will hold its first meeting on November 22, and the interim government that it appoints will remain in place until the next round of elections, which has been tentatively scheduled for next year.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post — Tunisian Parties Choose Veteran Human Rights Activist as Country’s New Interim President — 15 November 2011

Al Jazeera — Final Tunisian Election Results Announced — 14 November 2011 — Tunisia: Islamists Win 89 of 217 Seats — 14 November 2011

Washington Post — Final Tunisian Election Results Confirm Win for Islamist Party — 14 November 2011

Al Jazeera — Tunisia Coalition to Be Formed in ‘Days’ — 10 November 2011

Bloomberg — Islamists’ Victory in Tunisia a Win for Democracy — 30 October 2011

UPDATE: Elections in Nepal Begin with Violence, End with Large Voter Turnout

KATMANDU, Nepal – On the day before a nationwide election that would begin the transition to a republic, eight persons were killed in election-related violence. However, on election day voters were unfazed and came out in record numbers to cast their votes.

Maoists report that at least six members of their Young Communist League were fired on. The party also alleged that Rishi Prasad Sharma, a candidate of the Maoist’s Communist Party of Nepal, was shot and killed in the Surkhet district.

Despite the violence on the eve of elections, voters were undeterred. By Thursday afternoon, the Nepali Times reported that 75% of the electorate in Morang and Sunsari and 60% in the far west region of Nepal had voted. The paper also reported that 55% of voters in the Katmandu Valley, and 70% of voters Sindhuli, Parsa, and Rautahat had visited polling stations by mid-afternoon. More than 17.6 million Nepalis are eligible to vote, and experts predict there to be 70% turnout.

Voters came out in large numbers, early and enthusiastically. The election marks a turning point for the country that has undergone a decade of violence sparked by a Maoist insurgency. In order to create a lasting peace, Maoists will be eligible for seats in the Constituent Assembly and take part in reforming the country. The newly elected Constituent Assembly is expected to transform the country by instilling a republic, removing the monarchy, determining how to represent traditionally marginalized ethnic groups, and writing a new constitution.

Navaraj Suwal, a teacher, commented that Nepal’s elections were unprecedented, saying, “This election will determine the kind of laws that will be around for the next hundred years.” Navaraj Suwal was so excited to cast his ballot that he showed up 45 minutes early to be second in line.

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – Fears of Violence and Intimidation Ahead of Nepal’s Historic Election – 8 April 2008

Nepali Times – Bullet to Ballot – 11 April 2008

New York Times – Polls Open in Nepal the Day after Violence Killed 8 – 10 April 2008