Pre-Election FAQ

With less than a week to go to the December 4th Parliamentary elections, I thought it was time for a nice FAQ…

  • Does Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) follow the law?
  • We know for a fact that CNE violates important elections laws and constitutional principles. They include the constitutions’s Article 63 on secret voting, and Article 186 on proportional representation in parliamentary elections, as well as the Framework Law on Suffrage and Political Participation’s Article 172 on the need to manually count all the ballots and Article 120 on CNE’s duty to publish the electoral registry.

  • Does the CNE tell the truth?
  • We know for a fact CNE lies. CNE produced repeated assurances that the finger-print scanning machines could not be used to match particular voters to their votes. The voting simulation carried out in Fila de Mariches last week proved conclusively this was a lie…

  • Is CNE partisan?
  • Well, duh…

  • Will CNE steal the election?
  • Probably not. The pro-Chavez parties CNE openly favors are ahead in the polls. In part, this is because many (most?) opposition voters are planning to stay away from the vote on Sunday. Under such circumstances, CNE has no need to cheat numerically for chavismo to win the election.

    (Note: this is a point about numerical fraud. I mean only that CNE will not need to tamper with the automated results for chavismo to win. That there has been a host of other irregularities – from the Electoral Registry manipulations to gerrymandering, voter intimidation, and use of state resources to favor pro-government candidates – is too well-established to merit much discussion.)

  • If CNE has no need to cheat numerically, why does it keep lying and breaking the law?
  • Well, ask yourself this: what’s the purpose of having a docile CNE from the point of view of Chavez’s overall political strategy?

    As far as I can see, a chavista CNE has two overriding goals. The first is to provide international legitimacy to an autocratic regime by making sure the government can continue claim the “democratically elected” label. The second is to ensure Chavez’s grip on power by dividing and demobilizing the opposition.

    So CNE has to perform a delicate balancing act. It needs to persuade the Opposition that it can cheat if the need arises, and that there is nothing the opposition can do about it. At the same time, CNE needs to convince international elections monitors that it does not steal elections.

    The easiest way for CNE to achieve both goals is to convince the opposition not to trust it. Better yet, it can work to convince the more radicalized parts of the opposition not to trust it. By doing that, they depress opposition turnout and add fuel to the fire of the opposition civil war on whether to vote or abstain. And if large chunks of the opposition don’t vote, CNE doesn’t have to actually steal the election…which, of course, helps enormously in meeting the goal of international legitimation.

    So CNE’s flouting of important electoral laws is not in contradiction with the argument that they will not steal the election. Just the opposite – by flouting the law, CNE increases intra-opposition bickering and depresses antichavista turnout, which makes it unnecessary to cheat numerically.

    By manipulating the system just enough to keep the opposition in a state of permanent demobilized frustrechera – frustration mixed with anger – but not quite enough to bring on strong condemnation from abroad, CNE manages to square the circle. Chavez gets to have his cake and eat it too.

  • How well is CNE doing on attaining its twin goals?
  • Brilliantly.

  • What will happen on December 5th?
  • The government will win 115-130 or more of the National Assembly’s 167 seats. The international elections monitors will note a series of irregularities, but will be forced to concede there was no overall numerical fraud. The Opposition will sink further into immobilism. The new government supermajority will announce plans to ammend the 1999 constitution to allow Chavez to be re-elected indefinitely.