Some 20.7 million voters will elect 277 deputies to Venezuela’s National Assembly on Sunday. Without mail-in ballots, the results are expected to be known before Monday morning, and the event is expected to return the country to some sense of normal political functioning, since the present National Assembly was ruled in contempt of the constitution in 2018.
Nuts & Bolts
Venezuelan lawmakers are elected for five-year terms; the last election was in 2015, and those elected on Sunday will be sworn in on January 5, 2021, and serve until January 5, 2026. However, not all delegates are selected the same way, with 48 elected on a new national list system and 96 based on regional lists. Another 130 will be elected based on a first-past-the-post system, and three delegates are required to come from the country’s Indigenous communities.
It is important to note that the new National Assembly will have 110 more delegates than the present legislature - a June decision by a new electoral board increased the body’s membership from 167 to 217.
Even the way in which Venezuelans will cast their ballots has changed. Thanks to a catastrophic arson attack in March, nearly 50,000 voting machines and 582 computers belonging to the civil registry were destroyed. As a result, the country will be deploying new electronic voting machines that produce a paper receipt for auditing purposes.
Last weekend, representatives from all 107 political parties running candidates in the election joined members of the National Electoral Council in an audit of the voting machines in Mariche, Miranda state, TeleSUR reported. The machines scan each voter’s ID and fingerprint in order to verify their identity and prevent double-voting.
New Political Lines
There are a huge number of parties posting delegates on Sunday: 107 groups broken up into roughly five political blocs - three on the right and two on the left.
A split left vote is a first for the Bolivarian movement, which has largely remained united behind the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), an umbrella group founded by Chavez in 2007. This time, however, the Communist Party of Venezuela is putting up its own candidates in a new political bloc it calls the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR).
Communist Party General Secretary Oscar Figuera told Venezuelanalysis in September that APR is “a tactical opportunity to regroup forces, revolutionary currents, and other expressions of grassroots Chavismo. It’s about building a space for the joint construction of a popular agenda.” However, he noted they are not opposed to President Nicolas Maduro or calling for his ouster, since they “see imperialism as the main enemy of the Venezuelan people.”
While parts of the opposition close to self-declared interim president Juan Guaido have followed his call to boycott the election, others will still be running candidates, including Venezuela First, Popular Will and United Venezuela, which have formed a united bloc, and a slew of smaller parties on the right that lack substantial cohesion.
In all, the pro-Maduro parties are expected to command a majority in the legislature after Sunday.
Immediately after the elections were announced, Guaido said he would boycott them, and his absence has been used by governments that support his claims to be president as proof the elections aren’t legitimate.
On Tuesday, Guaido used the opportunity of an interview with Agence France-Presse to call for even more sanctions on Venezuela, saying “it would be a tragedy” if the international demands for Maduro’s ouster were to slacken.
In September, some of the opposition parties split on the question of a boycott, with Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader who has stood for president several times, opening negotiations with Maduro in the hopes of winning EU observation of the vote.
In the 2015 elections, the opposition mounted a shocking victory when it took 65% of the seats in the National Assembly. However, the tensions between the opposition-controlled assembly and Maduro’s government exploded in 2017, when the Supreme Tribunal of Justice declared the legislature to be in contempt, nullifying its decisions after it allowed three lawmakers accused of electoral fraud to be sworn in and passed. Later that year, the National Constituent Assembly stripped the National Assembly of its powers after it refused to discuss coordination between the two bodies as the former looks to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution.
Since then, the Constituent Assembly has functioned as the country’s legislature, although the National Assembly has continued to meet and pass its own measures, which have no legal bearing in the country at present.
The US and dozens of its allies have long called into question the legitimacy of Venezuela’s democratic processes, but each election has been carefully watched by international election observers, and Sunday’s will be no different. Delegations from the African Union, Caribbean Community and United Nations have all been invited, as well as the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts, among other groups.
However, the European Union declined Maduro’s invitation, saying in September that “time is already too short” for them to deploy. Brussels asked the election to be delayed, but Maduro, who announced the date of the elections in early July, has pledged they will go on regardless of “rain, thunder or lightning.”
Pre-Emptive International Rejection of Results
Despite the presence of impartial observers and moves such as Maduro’s September pardoning of 110 opposition affiliates of Guaido, a number of governments and international bodies positioned against Maduro and Chavismo have already stated they will not recognize the results of the election.
The EU’s rejection of the election timeline contained an implicit rejection of the results of that election, and the 14-nation Lima Group, a right-wing bloc of mostly Latin American nations but led by the US, whose sole raison d’etre is the removal of Maduro from power, pledged in August to ignore the election.
A hotly contested October resolution by the US-controlled Organization of American States (OAS) denounced the election, saying there was a “lack of minimum democratic conditions to guarantee free, fair, and transparent elections."
The Trump administration in the United States has pledged since June not to recognize the results, but presumed US President-elect Joe Biden isn’t likely to change from that policy. Advisers to the Democratic candidate told the Washington Post on Friday that Biden wouldn’t recognize any vote that is not “free and fair” and would continue to recognize the “democratically elected National Assembly” - i.e., the opposition-controlled one and the self-proclaimed interim presidency of Guaido, its former head.
According to Venezuelanalysis, there are extensive safety precautions at all voting sites to ensure they don’t facilitate the spread of COVID-19.
Face masks are required at all polling locations, and each location has a disinfecting station. Moreover, workers will clean each touchscreen after each person casts their vote. Social distancing at the centers and in lines outside will be enforced by the local Bolivarian militias, and all poll workers must test negative for COVID-19 before going to work that day.