After days of rumours, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) announced today that it will not participate in the April 22 presidential election since it considers it to be a fraud, and said that it would continue to work towards creating an electoral system that is free, transparent and fair. The announcement means that Maduro will effectively run unopposed in the presidential election.
The MUD–which is the largest opposition bloc in the country–issued a statement through its Twitter account, part of which reads:
The premature event being held on April 22 without [electoral safeguards] is nothing but a show from the government to pretend that it has the legitimacy that it lacks as Venezuelans suffer in agony. We call on the country to get out of the mentality that the only choice before us is whether to participate or not. THIS IS NOT AN ELECTION. OUR OBJECTIVE IS TO HOLD TRUE ELECTIONS [emphasis in original]. The Constitution demands them, and we will orient our struggle to that end.
The statement points out that among the demands that the opposition made to the Maduro regime on the matter of elections was the creation of a free and independent electoral body, the participation of international observers, and that the vote be held in the second half of 2018. Without these conditions, the MUD claims, the April 22 election is rigged in favour of Maduro.
The MUD’s announcement this afternoon confirms rumours that have been spreading since the weekend that the bloc would abstain from the vote. The MUD’s confirmation was preceded by announcements from some of its largest parties–including Voluntad Popular, Accion Democratica and Primero Justicia–that they would not take part in the election.
Maduro Backs Cabello Plan for Mega-Election
Shortly after the opposition announced that it would not participate in the April 22 vote, Maduro took to the airwaves to voice his support of a plan propounded by PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello to hold legislative elections on the same day as the presidential vote. Cabello made the plan public yesterday during a televised interview.
[I propose that] on the day of the presidential election that we also have elections for the National Assembly of Venezuela.
Maduro said that advanced legislative elections “take place everywhere in the world”, but he did not explain why he believes that should be the case in Venezuela right now.
The National Assembly is under the control of the opposition, after it handed the PSUV the largest electoral defeat in its history in the 2015 parliamentary election. Since that time, Maduro has tightened his grip on every other branch of government, and has relied extensively on the Supreme Court to nullify every measure coming from the National Assembly. That process reached a climax on March 29 of last year, when the Supreme Court ruled that the National Assembly was in contempt and that every one of its actions was invalid.
The legislative period in Venezuela is of five years, meaning that the next legislative elections are not scheduled to take place until 2019.
The National Constituent Assembly–a body that has powers that supersede those of the National Assembly–was elected in July of last year in an election that was universally condemned as fraudulent in order for the regime to have ready access to a legislative body, thereby circumventing the National Assembly entirely.
At the same time, Maduro said that he would also like to see elections for state and municipal legislatures take place on the same day as the presidential election, meaning that virtually every elected position in the country could be up for a vote in a matter of weeks.
Maduro said that he hoped that the mega-election would grant the PSUV absolute control over every office in the country. He explained:
[With the mega-election], we would have full control over the governorships, mayors, the new legitimate National Assembly, [state and municipal] legislators and the President of the Republic, made legitimate by the people. It is a wonderful idea.
Delcy Rodriguez, the president of Maduro’s Constituent Assembly, tweeted late this afternoon that she had formally received Maduro’s request for the mega-election, saying:
We have received from [President Maduro] the proposal to move the National Assembly elections forward, and to also hold elections for state and municipal legislatures in the country. The President can count on the commitment from the [Constituent Assembly] to strengthen democracy in the country!
Rodriguez’s comment all but guarantee that the regime’s electoral body–the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE)–will approve the proposal in the coming days.
ENCOVI Paints Grim Picture of Maduro’s Venezuela
Researchers with the Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida 2017 [Living Conditions Survey 2017] (ENCOVI) project held a press conference today during which they revealed statistics collected from their annual survey of living conditions in the country. The survey’s results paint a grim picture of the desperate reality affecting millions of Venezuelans living under the Maduro regime.
According to the results of the survey, 87% of Venezuelans live in poverty, while 61% live in extreme poverty. The proportion of Venezuelans living in poverty rose from 48.4% in 2014, while that of those living in extreme poverty rose from 23.6% in that same year.
In a presentation given before members of the press this morning, ENCOVI pointed out that the marked increase in poverty in the country is the result of the “hyperinflationary context” in the country. According to ENCOVI:
Because salaries are not indexed (salary increases lag way behind [the rate of inflation], and they only impact workers in the formal economy) the rise of inflation impoverishes all of us…
Another piece of evidence suggesting that the relatively recent hyperinflationary spiral is to blame for the rise of poverty in Venezuela comes from another one of the survey’s findings, which is that 56.2% of Venezuelans are recently poor, while 30.4% are chronically poor.
The growing poverty rate is having a serious effect on Venezuelans’ ability to feed themselves, they survey found, with 89.4% of respondents saying that they did not earn enough money to buy the proper amount of food. The survey also found that 80% of Venezuelans have altered their diets to eat less food because there isn’t enough at home, while 78% have eaten less food because they are unable to find any in stores.
The educational situation in the country is also in dire straits. The ENCOVI survey found that access to education by 18 to 24 year olds fell by 10% from 2016, and now sits at just 38%. The survey also found that 75% of students have missed school due to a lack of food in their homes.
The survey sampled 6,168 homes, and was conducted between July and September of last year.
Swiss Banks Under Investigation for PDVSA Corruption
The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) announced today that it was launching a formal investigation into the possibility that some of the country’s banks did not carry out due diligence ensuring that money deposited into PDVSA accounts was not laundered. The amount of potentially dirty money identified by the Swiss financial authority is estimated to be at least $1 billion.
While FINMA did not name the banks involved in the investigation, it did reveal the involvement of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company. In a statement, FINMA said:
FINMMA has been in contact with several Swiss banks in connection to the PDVSA case (…) The agency is investigating to what degree the Swiss banks were involved, and whether they met their regulatory obligations.
PDVSA has long been accused of being a vehicle for corruption used by PSUV officials to embezzle money out of the national coffers. In 2016, the National Assembly released the findings of a parliamentary audit that found that at least $11 billion had been embezzled from PDVSA since 2004.
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