First things first: Venezuela’s National Assembly has just one chamber. The National Assembly to be chosen on December 6th, 2015 will have 167 diputados (MPs).  164 of them will represent given areas: states or circuitos. The last three are representatives of indigenous Venezuelans. Parliamentary elections are held every five years.  

The voting system is usually called a “mixed” system because some seats are elected by majority rule constituencies and others through a list system meant to ensure proportional representation. But, as we will see, neither part of that description is quite right. In reality, it’s a strongly majoritarian election system. In most circumstances. Be warned, generalizations can be tricky.

Let’s start with constituencies – known locally as circuitos. 113 diputados are elected by a simple majority rule  (a.k.a., “first past the post”) in districts all around the country. Most of them are single-member constituencies, which simply put means the candidate with most votes on his name is elected, but there are exceptions (because easy and straightforward would be unacceptable in Venezuela). For example, Miranda State’s Circuit number 6 chooses two diputados, but they still run separately. In effect, these are “first two past the post” constituencies, where the two top vote-getters get seats in the A.N., whether or not they represent different parties.

Why does CNE do it this way instead of breaking big circuitos up into two? Nobody knows.

Then we have the list vote. The rationale behind having lists in addition to circuits is to guarantee an element of proportional representation. List seats are apportioned using the dreaded D’Hondt Method. The D’Hondt Method is the electoral equivalent of fútbol’s off-side rule – obvious to devotees, totally obscure to casual watchers. (You can find a detailed description here, if you dare). But the essence is this: each state gets a number of diputados to be divided proportionally between parties according to their result statewide.

Once upon a time, this proportionality element was applied on a national scale and resulted in actual correspondence between the percent of the vote a party got and its number of seats in parliament. Neither of those things are true anymore.

Why? Because in all but three states there are only two seats to be allocated to the lists! In practice, that means that in virtually all cases, the top two most popular parties in a state will get one seat each.

An example: Imagine Party A gets 40% of the votes, Party B gets 30% Party C gets 25% well Party A would get 50% of the seats and Party B would get the other 50%, leaving Party C and 25% of the population without representation. Doesn’t sound so ‘proportional’ now, does it?

So in fact, we have 113 seats decided on a first past the post (or first two past the post) basis, three that go to indigenous representatives, and more or less half of the remaining 51 that end up divided fiti-fiti in hands of the top two parties. The result is a system that’s “proportional” only not really. When you fiddle with simulations, you realize the system is strongly majoritarian, as “first past the post” systems tend to be – except when the election is close.

What the system does do is over-represent rural states, which pick more representatives  per head of population than urban states. This is a consequence of having only one chamber, because you must design the system in a way that small states are guaranteed some weight in the House. Historically, the opposition vote has been bunched mostly on urban areas, while chavismo has been stronger on rural states; giving them an additional edge. As a consequence simulations tend to favor PSUV if the election is close, but switch to creating oversized majorities for whichever side is the winner, when the election is not close.

And this election seems anything but close.


  1. Adding a bit to the explanation of list vote representation: In the 2010 legislative elections, the political forces in Lara were divided. The PSUV, the MUD and the PPT had their own tickets. PSUV got 41% of the vote, while the MUD got 30% and the PPT got 28%. Since Lara only elects 2 deputies through list vote, that meant only the top 2 tickets got deputies, in this case the PSUV got 1 deputy and the MUD got the other one.

    However, it was a special case. In this election, no such division exists (at least not that a big one), so this situation probably won’t happen again. The only way (and correct me if I’m wrong) for one party to get the 2 list vote deputies, is to double the votes of the second party in the state, something which rarely occurs. If you asked me, it would have been possible for the MUD to grab the 2 list vote deputies of Táchira had it not been for that pesky State of Exception.

    • Yup…under D’Hondt, if the top party in a state gets more than twice the number of seats of the second place party, it grabs both list seats. But the details are lo de menos: the key point is that it’s hard for either of the big parties to get fewer than 24 of the 51 List seats.

  2. It’s such an arroz con mango..between the Gerrymandering, the dead with 2 cedulas voting, the sinister Chavezmatic fraud machines, the constant bribes, massive megaguisos, extortion or severe intimidation.. nothing much will really change next year after all the manipulations.

  3. I still remember vividly the day the Supreme Tribunal killed the National Proportional Representation lists – which used to be called colloquially the “diputados de ñapa”. It must have been 2000 or 2001.

    I had to explain the decision for a piece I was writing. I remember reading it and not believing my eyes: it was such crazy, tortured non-sense!

    The TSJ struck down the provisions for national PR list-voting in the old Elections Law by arguing that when the constitution mandates that elections to the National Assembly include “proportional representation”, it means that indigenous Venezuelans should get their own representation. SAY GÜAT?!?!?!??

    I had to check it with lawyer friends to make sure I wasn’t somehow reading it wrong, that it really was as idiotic as it appeared to me.

    It’s a total nonsense argument that relies of a completely made up definition of “proportional representation”, one evidently at odds with what the legislator had intended when he wrote the constitution just a year or two earlier.

    It was a definition of proportionality that had no precedent in Venezuela or elsewhere, legally or in political science…just pure jurisprudential gobbledygook.

    Thing is, that decision was handed down years before Chávez packed the tribunal with loyalists.

    I don’t know why the memory is so salient for me. I just remember it as one of those “ah ha!” moments from chavismo’s early years when the scale of the catastrophe we were heading towards became really really obvious to me. I just saw clearly that a movement that could push through a decision like that could push through anything.

    Nobody else seemed to think it was a big deal.

    • Well, it was to be expected from chavismo, after all, they are the ones that “in the name of Venezuela’s independence and sovereignty” handed the country in a silver platter to castro and friends.

  4. I’ll leave another example: how many venezuelans live abroad now (about 1.5 million or so) and have 0 representatives in the National Assembly, and how many indigenous live in the country (having 3 representatives)? Of course, I’ll say at least 90 % of the people abroad are pro-opposition….

  5. […] とはいえ、ベネズエラの恐ろしく複雑な選挙制度のせいで(むごい詳細についてはこちら)この予測が実際に国民議会で何席獲得を意味するのかは不確かです。野党の得票数が単純多数より少ないことは考えにくいのですが、野党が本当に必要なのは、全議席の5分の3、あるいは3分の2という「意味のある」多数なのです。これだけ議席を獲得できれば、政府に対してより強力な影響力を持てるからです。 […]

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