Venezuela: Four Unfree, Unfair Elections in Just Five Years

Hot off the heels of the “largest electoral fraud in the history of Latin America,” Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship has done it again. Defying every major exit poll prior to Sunday, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) secured 17 of the nation’s 23 governorships, with its losses in states like Táchira, governed by socialists who dared to criticize the regime.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the coalition of opposition parties that participated in the races, immediately decried the fraud, citing violent physical attacks on opposition candidates, the presence of gangs near voting stations, and the government preventing some opposition candidates from running for unexplained reasons.

The MUD demanded an independent audit of the results. The anti-socialist opposition – the MUD contains Socialist International member parties – saw the fraud coming and vowed to abstain from voting or running in these elections. Nicolás Maduro laughed.

“When they lose they cry fraud. When they win they shout ‘Down with Maduro.’ Chavismo is alive, in the streets and triumphant,” he told a raucous crowd of supporters on national television Sunday night. He answered the calls for an audit by tasking the national constituent assembly (ANC) – itself a fraudulent lawmaking body created to usurp the power of the constitutional and democratically-elected National Assembly – with recounting the votes.

Maduro had previously prevented international observers from entering the country to appraise the election.

It should never have been a surprise that the chavistas rigged the October 2017 election – or the July 2017 election, or 2015 election, or the 2013 election, or the 2012 election. Evidence exists that none of those elections were free and fair and all merit revisiting in light of the crime that has now become a habit for the Maduro regime.

July 30, 2017: The ANC Election

The most recent fraud, the one that triggered the mass abstention of conservative opposition candidates, occurred in July. This summer, Maduro – apparently fatigued with having to contend with the opposition-held National Assembly on policy – announced the creation of the ANC. As the National Assembly was the constitutionally created lawmaking body, the ANC would be tasked with drafting a new constitution better equipped to serve Maduro’s needs. Given that the currently active constitution passed under late dictator Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s need for an even more draconian law of the land highlights the repressive nature of his rule.

Given that the constitution did not allow for the ANC election, the opposition boycotted the election entirely, staging a referendum on Maduro instead, in which 98 percent of the seven million people who voted said they opposed the creation of the ANC. Two weeks later, the Maduro regime claimed eight million voted in the ANC elections – a claim Smartmatic, the company that controls the election technology Caracas used to compile votes, said was false.

“It is with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout numbers on Sunday 30th July for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with,” Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, confirmed. Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), called the vote “the largest electoral fraud in the history of Latin America.”

December 2015: Legislative Election

The 2015 election may seem like a bizarre one to put on the list, as the opposition MUD coalition swept legislative elections and took control of the National Assembly. Yet even in an election where the socialists lost control of the legislature, reports surfaced of what are euphemistically referred to as “irregularities” during the election process.

Three days before the election, on December 3, a report surfaced that the government had begun to rapidly establish dozens of new voting centers. These, located in public housing sectors or other socialist strongholds, reportedly boasted names like “Chávez Lives, the Struggle Continues” or “the Legacy of President Chávez.”

Another “irregularity” noted was the sheer number of representatives in rural, deep red socialist districts with the more anti-chavista urban centers. “Urban states choose 67 of the 167 deputies. The more rural states have more deputies to choose, 100 of the 167,” El Confidencial noted, observing the population discrepancy between the two.

April 2013: Presidential Election

Maduro’s presidential campaign against now former Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski featured a peculiar anecdote highlighted in the book Boomerang Chávez on the decline of the country under socialism. “At 6 PM, the hour at which on April 14, 2013, polls should have closed in Venezuela electoral centers, Henrique Capriles Radonski had won the election,” author Emili Blasco writes.

Then, suddenly, the entire online network run by the National Electoral Commission (CNE) crashed. Leamsy Salazar, a former bodyguard to Hugo Chávez, told Blasco he believes the CNE intentionally crashed the network to “download traffic from the telephone network and thus be better able to manage the complex volume of data in the PSUV’s parallel information system.” They fed the election machines the votes necessary to rig the election, he claims.

Two information security specialists also told Blasco that the machines appeared to count nearly two million fake votes.

The MUD responded by taking their case to the Interamerican Court for Human Rights, while European observers present in the country alleged that they had witnessed significant “electoral crimes” nationwide.

October 2012: Presidential Election

It was the second time that Capriles had had the presidency robbed from under him, according to a variety of reports from observers and groups. Capriles ran the year before against Hugo Chávez, who would later die before completing his term. In addition to facing a barrage of anti-Semitic (despite being Catholic) and anti-gay (despite being straight) attacks from socialists, Chávez ensured almost full control of media access and campaigning before the vote.

Freedom House notes that, while “the voting itself took place without serious violence or major complaints of irregularities,” Venezuela’s state-run oil company spent billions on “gifts of home durables, apartments, and outright cash subsidies to purchase the allegiance of Venezuelan voters.” Chávez himself would barge onto television and radio airwaves at a moment’s notice without paying for advertising spots to disseminate his propaganda.

It doesn’t stop in 2012. A 2015 study by academics Manuel Hidalgo y Raúl Jiménez found evidence for fraud going as far back as 2004.

Accusations of taking significant bribes from companies like the beleaguered Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht leave open the question of where all that money went and which campaigns it funded. There is little doubt Maduro will tamper with the results of the next elections, the 2018 presidential campaign. Whether the opposition will be there to lose on command is an open question.

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