Late last night, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) announced that it would begin the process of certifying the validity of the country’s political parties starting on February 18. The process will take place over 10 weekends, and will conclude on April 23. The certification process will require all of the country’s political parties to renew their official status as legitimate political entities in order to participate in future elections.
The convoluted renewal process is divided into several complex stages.
During the first stage, the 59 registered political parties that did not participate in the last two electoral processes or did not win at least 1% of votes in the last two electoral processes will have 48 hours These parties will need to collect fingerprints and electronic signatures from at least 0.5% of registered voters in at least twelve states in order to qualify as official political parties. The CNE has allocated 390 fingerprint scanning machines for this process.
During the second stage, the CNE will verify the legitimacy of political parties that did participate in the last two elections by counting the votes that each party received in the 2015 parliamentary elections. The parties will then be ranked based on the number of votes that they received.
The announcement has sparked fears that the CNE, which is in charge of organizing and holding elections in the country, would once again postpone the regional elections that were supposed to take place last year but were delayed until this year for reasons that were never made entirely clear. Aside from these fears, some opposition leaders have expressed concern that the CNE would simply find technicalities in the renewal process to declare some or all opposition parties in the country illegitimate, effectively killing democracy in Venezuela.
MUD Calls Renewal Process “Unwinnable Obstacle Race”
The Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), the largest opposition party bloc in the country, reacted to the news from the CNE today by saying that the renewal process was “an unwinnable obstacle race” that was essentially designed to disqualify opposition parties from participating in elections.
According to the MUD, the fact that the renewal process involves tabulating the number of votes won by each individual party is incompatible with the way in which the 2015 parliamentary elections were carried out. During those elections, the individual opposition parties that make up the MUD did not run against one another: rather, they ran their candidates under a single ticket under the MUD name. The MUD believes that the Maduro regime may exploit this fact in order to disqualify the bloc’s individual parties for running candidates in elections.
The MUD is made up of 18 individual parties. For example, National Assembly deputy Freddy Guevara belongs to the Voluntad Popular (VP) party, but he ran on the MUD ticket in the 2015 parliamentary elections. The MUD is afraid that the CNE will not count the votes cast for Guevara as counting for the VP tally, which could give the body justification for disqualifying VP as a political party.
The MUD issued a press release today outlining its concerns. Part of the release reads (emphasis in original):
This is an aggression by the regime against the country, not just against political parties. It was the country that demanded that the democratic parties, in a gesture of selflessness, not use their own respective tickets and symbols, and instead participate in these [2015 parliamentary elections] using A SINGLE TICKET, the MUD ticket, “the one with the little hand” [the MUD symbol] as people began to call it. Putting aside their own interests and traditions for the sake of the country, this is what [the opposition] political parties did. Today, the regime wants to use that circumstance in order to put an end to the democratic parties by designing a mechanism of renewal for the organizations before the CNE that turns that process into an unwinnable obstacle race. Once more, the pro-government majority at the CNE is not acting to promote, but rather to oppose, the constitutional right of the Venezuelan people to organize themselves and participate in politics.
The same press release calls on a host of international organizations including the Organization of American States, Unasur, Mercosur, and the United Nations to take note of the “severe aggression against peace in Venezuela” that this renewal process represents.
Torrealba: Venezuela Headed for Cuban Electoral System
The head of the MUD, Jesus Torrealba, called the CNE’s announcement last night part of a campaign to eliminate democracy in Venezuela, and instead install an electoral system in the country similar to that found in Cuba or Nicaragua, where elections are decided before they take place and legitimate political opposition is virtually non-existent.
… yesterday, the CNE [announced] an mechanism of party renewal that is impossible to satisfy. In this way, the government is attempting to install in Venezuela an electoral system like the one in Cuba or Nicaragua. In other words, an electoral system where maybe there are elections, but they [those in power] are the only ones who compete. These are elections where people may have a chance to vote but not elect, because the immense majority of political organizations could be out of the picture through the imposition of this renewal system that is impossible to satisfy.
Torrealba also stressed that the fact that the CNE is only making available 390 electronic fingerprint scanning machines (out of a total of 40,000) throughout the entire country and even then only on the weekends means that the organization is attempting to make it physically impossible for the opposition parties to meet the steep requirements for renewal. Torrealba said:
Instead of creating a process to stimulate what is ultimately a right, which is [the right] of citizens to organize around political parties, this is an obstacle race that has been designed so that no one can win it.
Vicente Bello, a MUD executive, said that the CNE’s requirements placed on 59 smaller parties that either did not participate in the previous two elections or did not win votes from at least 1% of registered voters are also illogical and seemingly designed to be failed. Bello explained:
The figures call for a minimum of 0.5% of registered voters in each state, which is equivalent to 5,000 people in the [least populated] states like Amazonas and Delta Amacuro, to 120,000 or 200,000 people in the [most populated] states, like Zulia, the Capital District, Miranda or Carabobo.
Bello also pointed out that the last time that the CNE demanded that political parties undergo a renewal process was in 2007, when the organization allotted an entire year for the process.
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