What is Venezuela voting on?

People will head to the polls to elect all 167 members of the National Assembly – our single-chamber legislative branch.

When?

This Sunday, December 6th. (That’s why we use “6D” as shorthand for the election.)

Who’s running?

There are two big blocks: the governing party that Hugo Chávez founded, PSUV, and the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable, known by its unfortunate-in-English acronym, MUD

There are smaller parties and independents, too, but they’re not expected to score any seats.

Who’s winning?

Every halfway credible opinion poll we’ve seen gives the opposition a double-digit lead in the national popular vote, with many pollsters showing us with 15-25 point leads. It’s not close.

However, because of Venezuela’s weirdly complicated electoral system (gory details here) it’s hard to say how many seats in the assembly that will mean. The opposition is almost sure to get a simple majority, but what we really want is a qualified majority of 3/5ths or even 2/3rds of the Assembly. That would give the opposition a much stronger hand in dealing with the Maduro government.

Our in-house forecasting model suggests the opposition could get 111 seats – just one seat shy of the coveted 2/3rd supermajority that allows you to call a binding referendum on pretty much any question. That’s a bit higher than the 90-100 seat consensus out there, but lower than some estimates we’ve seen.

Is a qualified majority even in the cards?

That question right there’s the easiest way to get two Venezuelan politics junkies to argue these days!

We think 3/5ths is definitely possible. 2/3rds looks hard to me, but not insane.

I thought chavismo was popular. How come the government is losing so badly?

Venezuela is going through its worst economic depression ever. Inflation is out of control, you can’t find the basics in the shops – food staples, medicine, diapers, toilet paper – unless you stand in line for several hours. The country is really chaotic, street crime is still out of control and the economy is horrifically – almost comically – badly run. People are really fed up.

Also, nobody likes Nicolás Maduro, the guy Chávez set up as his heir.

Are the elections fair?

They’re not even close to fair. The list of dirty tricks, unfair advantages, abuses of power and other campaign violations the government has engaged in is very long. And that’s not me saying it, it’s the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, along with many others.

Some of the dirty tricks are so brazen you almost admire them. For example, the government took over a tiny party, “MIN-Unidad”, and made sure its graphic design on the ballot was very similar to MUD’s, even though it backs government candidates. They then placed MIN-UNIDAD’s card on the ballot paper right next to the MUD‘s UNIDAD card, all to try to confuse voters into voting for the wrong side.

In one district, they even recruited a guy who happened to have the same name as the opposition’s candidate, Ismael García, to run on MIN-UNIDAD’s card. They then put the photos of the real Ismael García on campaign posters for the fake party…really!

On the left, the real opposition candidate, Ismael García, holding the MUD's poster. On the right, a poster by the fake party, with the real Ismael García's face, telling people to vote for a party who backs the other Ismael García. That's some baroque cheating right there!
On the left, the real opposition candidate, Ismael García, holding the MUD’s real poster. On the right, a poster by the fake party, MIN-UNIDAD that uses the real Ismael García’s face, telling people to vote for a party that in fact nominated another guy also named Ismael García. That’s some baroque cheating right there!

What’s remarkable is that even though they’ve gone to these crazy extremes to cheat, they’re still likely to lose bigtime.

Couldn’t the government just steal the election on Sunday night?

Not without it being really obvious to absolutely everyone. 

Venezuela’s election system has many deep flaws, but it has one major virtue: we vote with electronic machines that leave a paper trail, and a sample of those paper ballots is hand counted at every voting center, nationwide. If the sums announced in Caracas don’t match the paper trail audits in each voting center, it’s very easy to see that. And that’s never happened.

But I heard that the machines were run out of a secret room in Cuba…

There’s a huge amount of mythologizing about our voting machines. In the end, they’re just the world most expensive pencil: they produce printouts, and the printouts are counted by hand. No hacker in Timbuktu or anywhere else can do anything about that.

But aren’t the machines on a wireless network that…

Que no, coño, ya.

So what comes next?

Venezuela hasn’t faced a situation like this, where the government doesn’t quite control the entire state, in almost 17 years now.

If, as expected, the opposition takes control of the legislative branch, we’re heading into terra incognita: turmoil and violence are definite possibilities. But a serious, high stake political negotiation is also a real possibility. Even outright regime collapse can’t really be ruled out. Things are just about to get interesting.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Changing from “sh&t is about to get interesting” to “things are just about to get interesting”. Patent pending?

  2. what do you think about people like this Toro Hardy?

    “Jose Toro Hardy ‏@josetorohardy
    ¿Cómo podrían explicarle a observadores internacionales que pretenden montar centros de votación en edificios de la Misión Vivienda?”

  3. Spent the whole day going with my wife from place to place looking for things we need with very poor results , the first place we went we left when we saw that ahead of the queue was a rowdy throng of malandro looking people pushing and yelling ugly things to each other , signalling clearly that they would crash the place before anyone on the line …..the store had a solitary policeman who who when things heated up got inside and shut the outer metal doors down.

    At the other places things were uncomfortable but the people were more civilized , in one place we found coffee and two packages of wheat flour, in another we found some packages of pre prepared cachapa meal (a kind of local tortilla) , at another 4 small bottles of corn oil. We were lucky at the bank to get some change (good for paying service men their end of year aguinaldo) in hundred bs bills . The bank teller likes us other wise you get a big bunch of 2 , 5 and10 bs bills , still we also had to take a few hundred 2 bs Bills as part of the package. At the pharmacy of 6 medicines we were able to buy 2. People of course looked sort of sad and at times angry, prices are easily five fold what they were a couple of months ago . We didnt find milk, or sugar , or corn meal, or toilet paper , or black beans or rice or eggs or beef or chicken or other common stapples of Venezuelan daily diet . Cheese we did find but at very stiff prices . The most repeated phrase whenever people face the absence of some needed product is the bitter refrain ‘pero tenemos patria’ ,

    Anybody who now goes thru these kinds of experiences has to have his head examined if he is feeling anything but the strongest animosity towards the regime and its leaders.

    • B.B.: The remaining Chavistas who suffer these indignities and deprivations and remain loyal are brain-washed. They bought into the cult-like aspects of Chavismo to the degree that this is how they define themselves. For them, to conclude that they were wrong, would be a form of suicide. Very sad and pathetic…

  4. Let’s take the middle between 15-25 which is 20%, so, if we polarize it (taking in account only PSUV and MUD) that’s 60%-40%, now, let’s ponder:
    1) Atrocious gerrymandering (even worse than 2010)
    2) Turtle operation on opposition-winning electoral centers
    3) Min-UNIDAD votes stolen thru deceiving propaganda
    4) Assisted vote
    5) Pandemic fear among ex-chavistas that government may find out who did they vote for.
    6) Opposition witnesses being expelled from some “red” electoral centers.
    7) Some other small tactics to whisk away some more votes.

    I wonder can someone project getting anything more than a simple majority for this sunday.

  5. I have heard several times during the last few days that Ramos Allup is going to be the next president of the AN, “Its been negotiated!” they said.

    If true, well…. I… I will let you know my opinion when/if actually happens.

  6. “Venezuela’s election system has many deep flaws, but it has one major virtue: we vote with electronic machines that leave a paper trail, and a sample of those paper ballots is hand counted at every voting center, nationwide. If the sums announced in Caracas don’t match the paper trail audits in each voting center, it’s very easy to see that. And that’s never happened. (…) they produce printouts, and the printouts are counted by hand. No hacker in Timbuktu or anywhere else can do anything about that.”

    That’s fantastic, Mr. Toro, but do you mind putting at least one reliable source backing the information supplied? It would enrich your article enourmosly. Thanks!

Leave a Reply