Despite a high level of election transparency, one that Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world”, the US and its allies have accused Venezuela of election fraud. Caleb Maupin breaks down how Venezuela’s electoral system really works.
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — The State Department has announced that the United States, unlike Russia and China, will not recognize the results of Venezuela’s May 20 election. Canada and a few Latin American allies of the U.S. joined in rejecting the results.
The vote re-elected Nicolas Maduro to a second six-year presidential term. Maduro, who won a solid majority of 67 percent of votes cast, is a former bus driver and labor activist, and leads the United Socialist Party (PSUV). He ran on a platform of continuing the “Bolivarian Revolution,” a process launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez, named in honor of South American independence fighter Simon Bolivar. The stated goal of the Bolivarian process is to bring Venezuela toward “21st Century Socialism.”
A few well-known anti-government activists in Venezuela were barred from participating. Henrique Capriles, a previous presidential candidate from the Democratic Roundtable (MUD) was barred for misappropriating campaign funds for personal use. Leopoldo Lopez, another well-known opposition figure, was barred after being convicted of inciting violence and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Major opposition parties Justice First, Popular Will, and Democratic Action urged voters to boycott the election, after the failure of negotiations with the government following its Constituent Assembly.
The main opposition to Maduro in the presidential race came from Henri Falcon. Falcon ran from the Progressive Advance Party, and received roughly 21 percent of the vote. Falcon calls himself a socialist and is a former member of the PSUV who left to join the opposition in 2012. Falcon accused Maduro of mismanagement of the economic crisis, and argued that Venezuela should drop its independent currency, adopt the U.S. dollar, and join the International Monetary Fund in order to receive emergency funds to resolve the crisis. Javier Bertucci, a well-known evangelical Christian minister, also ran for president, receiving about 10 percent of the vote.
A high level of transparency – “The Best in the World”
The Venezuelan government goes out of its way to ensure electoral participation and transparency. Article 63 of the Bolivarian Constitution says:
Suffrage is a right. It is exercised through free, universal, direct and secret ballots. The law will guarantee the principle of individuality of suffrage and proportional representation.”
In Venezuela, the vote is held on a weekend in order to ensure that people do not miss out on the opportunity to vote because they have to work. Citizens register to vote with their thumbprints, so that no one can vote claiming to be someone else. Poll close at 6 p.m.; however, if even a single line of people remains, polls are required to remain open until every citizen has had an opportunity to cast his or her ballot. Venezuelan law also stipulates that there must be one voting center for every 500 residents.
People who have been convicted of crimes are permitted to vote in Venezuela after being released from prison, and only those currently serving sentences are disenfranchised. The National Elections Center (CNE) arranges for voting machines to be set up in jails so that those being detained or awaiting trial can vote.
An electronic tally is taken by the voting machines, but each voter receives a printed receipt showing who they voted for. The printed receipts are collected, and 53 percent of the country’s voting centers undergo official audit to assure that the printed receipts match the numbers of the electronic tally after the polls close. The audits are held publicly, and observers from political parties must sign the audits to confirm they were legitimate. Venezuela is the only country in the world to have a public audit of the vote on Election Night.
International bodies that have previously monitored Venezuelan elections have said their results are legitimate. In 2012, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, director of the Carter Center for Fair Elections, which oversaw the Venezuela polls, declared:
As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
A number of international observers were on hand during the May 20 election and declared the results to be legitimate.
Accusations of Fraud
Despite the stringent safeguards in place to protect Venezuela’s election integrity, international media based in Western countries have widely claimed the election was fraudulent. Those claiming that the results are illegitimate have cited prior statements from SmartMatic, a corporation based in London that manufactured Venezuela’s voting machines. An official statement from SmartMatic claimed the 2017 Constitutional Referendum vote showed “tamper evident.” Statements from SmartMatic have been vague about how exactly the results were illegitimate or what malpractice took place.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Elections Center (CNE), says the claims from SmartMatic and its Chief Executive Antonio Mugica are simply opinion. He points out that Mugica and SmartMatic operate from London, and had a very small role in the actual election process, despite manufacturing the hardware.
CNE also asked why SmartMatic has not approached Venezuela about how to correct alleged problems with its voting system, and why it did not alert officials of potential fraud prior to the election. Since 2017, SmartMatic no longer provides services to the Venezuelan government and has not provided any insight into the 2018 presidential election.
Media from Venezuela has pointed out that Mark Malloch Brown, Chairman of SmartMatic, has ties to various international bodies that have called for regime change in Venezuela. Brown, who holds the British title of “Lord,” is Chairman of the International Crisis Group, an organization that has called for “transition” in Venezuela. Brown also served as Vice President of a Hedge Fund called Quantum Fund, which is directly tied to activist billionaire and regime-change advocate George Soros. Soros has also served on the board of Brown’s International Crisis Group.
It is also being widely reported that the Venezuelan government offered material incentives, such as refilling of the government ration card, for people to participate in the election. Reports further claim that government employees were required to vote.
It is true that many incentives and rewards were given to Venezuelans in order to participate in the May 20 vote. However, many of these reports deceptively hint that these incentives or requirements specified how participants voted, which is not the case. The government does not record how individual citizens vote. Incentives were provided for participation in the face of calls to boycott the vote from opposition forces. The National Elections Center of Venezuela created an “Australian ballot,” which is completely private. Citizens were not rewarded or penalized based on how they voted, and no record is kept indicating how individuals chose to vote.
Socialists optimistic, despite hardships
During his election campaign, Maduro touted Venezuela’s recent launching of a crypto-currency, the petro, which has raised billions of dollars for the indebted government. Maduro has called for an “economic revolution” to alter the country’s dependency on foreign-imported medicine, food, and consumer goods, which has made it vulnerable to foreign sabotage.
While many have referred to the food and medicine shortages in Venezuela as a “humanitarian crisis,” Alfred de Zayas, the UN Special Envoy who spent eight days in the country in December of 2017, disagreed. De Zayas echoed the analysis of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), saying “the so-called humanitarian crisis does not exist in Venezuela, although there are shortages, scarcity, and distribution delays, etc.”
The Venezuelan economy is centered around PDVSA, the state-controlled oil corporation that generates most of the country’s GDP and revenue. Venezuela’s economic problems began in 2014 when oil prices dramatically dropped, and remained low for the following two years.
However, oil prices are now steadily increasing, reaching above $70 per barrel, and supporters of Maduro are optimistic that Venezuela will be able to recover from the last few years of hardship.
Candidate Henri Falcon has contested the results, calling them fraudulent. The Trump administration, as well as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), have indicated that they intend to impose new sanctions on Venezuela in response to the election, which they consider illegitimate.
Top Photo | Opposition presidential candidate Javier Bertucci, a TV evangelist, shows his ballot during presidential elections in Valencia, Venezuela, May 20, 2018. AP | Fernando Llano
Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages and has been involved in many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well as 21st Century Socialism. Maupin appears on a wide range of media, including CNN, RT, MintPress News, and New Eastern Outlook. You can read more of his work at his blog: https://calebmaupin.com.