The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the country’s electoral body, appears to have been caught attempting to gerrymander districts ahead of the fall parliamentary elections to benefit the PSUV and harm the opposition.
The CNE released population projections last week for December 2016. Based on the projections, states can stand to gain or lose seats in the National Assembly.
The CNE projections in several key states raise questions as to their validity, as they fly in the face of estimates by the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica de Venezuela (INE), which is responsible for conducting the census.
For example, the CNE projects an anomalous population figure for Aragua state. According to the CNE numbers, Aragua – traditional a PSUV state – would gain an additional seat in the National Assembly. Below, a table showing the CNE figure for December 2015, along with INE estimates for June 30 2015/2016:
- INE population estimate, June 30 2015: 1,805,185
- CNE population estimate, December 31 2015: 1,888,983
- INE population estimate, June 30 2016: 1,822,424
The CNE figure represents a population increase of 4.64% in Aragua state between June 30 and December 31 of this year.
Similarly, Miranda state, an opposition bastion, appears to show confusing population figures. The CNE projections would take away a seat from Miranda to the National Assembly:
- INE population estimate, June 30 2015: 3,159,048
- CNE population estimate, December 31 2015: 2,989,795
- INE population estimate, June 30 2016: 3,194,390
The CNE figures represents a population decrease of 5.36% in Miranda state between June 30 and December 31 of this year.
Last week, Jesus Torrealba, the head of the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, called on both the CNE and the INE to clarify the figures, which he qualified as “not corresponding to reality”.
Sumate, an NGO closely tied to the opposition, argues that rather than create highly suspicious population estimates, the logical thing for the CNE to do would be to simple pick a centre point along the INE population estimate trend for the June 30 2015-2016 period.
The National Assembly is expected to vote soon on whether to accept the CNE’s projections and move forward with the changes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Visits Iran
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodriguez arrived in Tehran, Iran today in a surprise visit to the country that is expected to last just a few hours. Her entourage includes Minister of Oil Asdrubal Chavez.
The Iranian Isna news agency reports that the Venezuelan delegation will meet with their Iranian counterparts, namely Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamad Yavad Zarif and Minister of Oil Bijam Namdar Zangane. Isna also reports that the focus of the meeting was to address falling oil prices, an issue which has united both OPEC members.
Zarif spoke to the press after the meeting with Rodriguez, saying:
We are happy to host the Venezuelan Foreign and Oil Ministers today. We had a good discussion when it comes to bilateral ties, international and regional relations, and we’ve spoken about economic collaborations and political consultations.
Turning to tensions both countries have with the United States, Zarif said:
We believe that the Venezuelan people are resisting foreign threatening policies in the same way that the Iranian people, with their perseverance against foreign threats, provoked their failure.
Zarif was referring to recent talks between the United States and Iran regarding its nuclear program. Although the talks have been tenuous, President Obama announced what appears to be a breakthrough in the negotiations earlier this month.
Iran and Venezuela have enjoyed close relations in the Bolivarian era, united in their opposition to the United States. That same opposition has also moved Russia and Venezuela closer together in recent years. Just today, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced his support for Venezuela through Twitter, saying:
We express our solidarity with the government of Venezuela against interference with their internal affairs.
Venezuela Receives $5 Billion from China
Maduro announced last night that Venezuela had just received a $5 billion loan from China, as part of a package that will eventually see another $5 billion lent to Venezuela before the end of the year.
Speaking on state television, Maduro said:
We’ve just received 5,000 million [5 billion] more dollars for financing development… we’re working on other tramos [“paths” or “branches”], and when they become concrete and begin to arrive, I will inform you.
China has become an indispensable source of foreign currency for Venezuela, specially in recent years. Since 2007, Venezuela has received $46 billion in financing from China. As the country’s foreign reserves dip due to the fall in oil prices – they dropped below $20 billion last year – China’s willingness to lend Venezuela money has become an important piece of the country’s fiscal stability.
Ultimas Noticias: Elections Will Take Place in Later November-Early December
Ultimas Noticias is reporting that sources inside the Consejo Nacional Electoral [National Electoral Council] do not believe it is logistically possible to hold parliamentary elections until at least late November or early December. According to the sources, the issue lies with the fact that both the PSUV and the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica [MUD] are holding primary elections at the end of June, meaning that the preparation process for the fall election cannot begin to take place until after the primaries.
Since the National Assembly serves five years terms and the last elections were in 2010, parliamentary elections must take place this year.
Economist: Currency Control Hurts, But Gov’t Cannot Change It
El Nacional pointed out in an article today that Venezuelans’ access to foreign currency for travelling abroad has been severely restricted over the past years. According to the article, the government allotted a $5,000 spending maximum for trips abroad. A maximum of $600 could be received in cash at a fixed-rate of Bs. 2.60.
Today, the maximum total amount is $3,000. Adults cannot receive cash, and the exchange rate has been devalued to Bs. 12. Anyone wishing to supplement their travel amount must buy dollars at the rate of Bs. 193, although shortages at this rate drive many Venezuelans – if they can afford to – to buy dollars at the black market rate, which today sits at Bs. 265.
To economist Gabriel Villamizar, the recent reductions in the amount of dollars Venezuelans are allowed to legally exchange is the result of a government that is facing a 46% decrease in national income for 2015 and has few options. Villamizar said:
There’s a projected decrease of 46% in national incomes for 2015. In the face of this scenario, along costly foreign debt payments – which total $13 billion between PDVSA and the republic – the executive [branch] saw the necessity to make cuts somewhere, and it found them with private imports and travelers.
Villamizar also believes that even if the government recognizes the currency control systems has flawed, it will do nothing to change them in any meaningful way. For Villamizar, the system is not so much about controlling currency, but about controlling opponents:
The answer [to whether or not the government will ever remove the controls] can be found in the statements given by [governor] Aristobulo Isturiz a while ago when he said that if it was eliminated, it would give a tool to the private sector with which to remove the government’s control. This is a sign that the [currency] controls are tools of economic and political control.
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