Venezuela - 06 December 2020 Election - National Assembly
Venezuela has a unicameral National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) with 167 seats. In the National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), 113 members are elected by simple majority vote, 51 members are elected by proportional representation vote, and 3 seats are reserved for indigenous peoples of Venezuela to serve 5-year terms. The 1999 constitution, the country’s 26th since independence in 1811, provides citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections, but government interference, electoral irregularities, and manipulation of voters and candidates restricted the exercise of this right. Opposition political parties operate in a restrictive atmosphere characterized by intimidation, the threat of prosecution or administrative sanction on questionable charges, and very limited mainstream media access.
Venezuela is formally a multiparty, constitutional republic, but for more than a decade, political power has been concentrated in a single party with an increasingly authoritarian executive exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, citizens’ power (which includes the prosecutor general and ombudsman), and electoral branches of government. The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute individuals critical of government policies or actions. Foro Penal reported 286 political prisoners in government custody as of 18 November 2018, down from 676 political prisoners reported at the height of 2017’s wave of political protests but well above averages recorded in 2015 and 2016. The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials.
Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.
On 20 May 2018, the government organized snap presidential elections that were neither free nor fair for the 2019-25 presidential term. Nicolas Maduro was re-elected through this deeply flawed political process, which much of the opposition boycotted and the international community condemned. His illegitimate next term was scheduled to begin on January 10, 2019. The opposition gained supermajority (two-thirds) control of the National Assembly in the 2015 legislative elections. The executive branch, however, used its control over the Supreme Court (TSJ) to weaken the National Assembly’s constitutional role to legislate, ignore the separation of powers, and enable the president to govern through a series of emergency decrees.
Venezuela plunged into a deep power struggle in January 2019 when opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to declare a rival presidency, arguing Nicolas Maduro's May 2018 re-election was illegitimate. Guaido has been recognized as the rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States. Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly approved a law 23 July 2019 returning the OPEC nation to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1947. The treaty states that an attack on one of the members should be considered an attack on all. Opposition hardliners had urged re-joining the Treaty as a precursor to requesting a foreign military intervention to oust Maduro. Venezuela and other leftist Latin American countries left the alliance between 2012 and 2013.
Elections to renew the National Assembly, the only branch of government under opposition control, were set for December 2020. But the Constituent Assembly, a rival body created by the Maduro regime and given extraordinary powers superseding the National Assembly, hinted at the possibility of ordering early elections. Such a maneuver could threaten the opposition's hold on the National Assembly and with it Guaido's claim as head of the legislature to be the country's legitimate president.
The Lima Group regional bloc said on 06 January 2020 it backed the re-election of opposition leader Juan Guaido as head of Venezuela's Congress after Nicolas Maduro's socialist government forced a separate vote imposing a new leader of the legislative body. Luis Parra was installed as the new head of Congress on Sunday after armed troops blocked opposition legislators from entering parliament, in a move condemned by dozens of nations as an assault on democracy. Guaidó, has accused the government of Nicolás Maduro of trying to bribe lawmakers to vote against his re-election as National Assembly president in an effort to put Maduro loyalists in the parliament and gain control of Venezuela's last democratic institution. Opposition legislators responded by re-electing Guaido in a session at the headquarters of a pro-opposition newspaper.
Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on 09 January 2020 denounced that the U.S. government is promoting a plan to intervene in the elections of the National Assembly to be held in 2020. During his press conference, Arreaza unveiled a diplomatic note that the U.S. government sent to several countries asking them to commit to "the promotion of free elections" in Venezuela. "The U.S. Government requests support for a statement on fair elections of the Venezuelan National Assembly" diplomatic note was sent by the Trump administration to foreign ministries on 15 December 2019 pending a response until January 5.
“This document makes you laugh due to its nonsense," Arreaza said and added that the U.S intends to present itself as author of the dialogues between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. The U.S. argues that such dialogues have been possible thanks to the economic, financial, and trade blockade against the Venezuelan people, which makes no sense given that "President Maduro has always been the first one to convene the dialogue," the Minister explained.
"They have not given up the strategy of trying to impose a presidential election in Venezuela," Arreaza said and added that "the U.S. aims to establish a transitional government," through which Washington expects to organize supposedly fair elections. "They want to make elections using their own standards but that will never happen because the United States will never control Venezuela." He also denounced that the economic support offered by the Trump administration to the Venezuelan opposition is actually intended to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuelan police used tear gas to break up an anti-government demonstration in Caracas called for by opposition leader Juan Guaido 10 March 2020. Thousands of protesters gathered in the Venezuelan capital to march on the National Assembly, which was taken over in January by lawmakers of President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialist Party. The marchers advanced only a few blocks before their path was blocked by riot police. Guaido organized the march in an effort to revive the street protests against President Maduro that erupted in 2019.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court removed the leadership of two political parties opposed to Socialist President Nicolas Maduro on 17 June 2020 and replaced them with politicians reportedly tied to Maduro months ahead of legislative elections. The court installed lawmaker Jose Brito as head of the Justice First party on Tuesday, a day after expelling the leadership of the Democratic Action party and replacing it with long-time party activist Bernabe Gutierrez. The Democratic Action party issued a statement that it had expelled Gutierrez for conspiring “with different factions of the Nicolas Maduro regime.” Brito was expelled from Justice First back in December following accusations that he was involved in an influence peddling scandal.
The action by the Supreme Court, widely believed by many to be friendly to President Maduro, follows an earlier decision to name members of the National Electoral Council, ignoring a constitutional mandate that places that responsibility with the National Assembly. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who heads the National Assembly, said it would not recognize the “false” electoral authority.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro said 02 September 2020 it had invited the leaders of the United Nations and European Union to send observers to monitor parliamentary elections in December. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said that a letter had been sent to UN chief Antonio Guterres and EU top diplomat Josep Borrell, outlining "the broad electoral guarantees agreed for the upcoming parliamentary elections," and inviting them to send observers. The move came a day after Maduro pardoned more than 100 lawmakers and associates of opposition leader Juan Guaido "in the interests of promoting national reconciliation" ahead of the polls.
Guaido dismissed the move as a ploy to try to legitimize the upcoming elections, which the main opposition has said it will boycott. Fearing that the Socialist Party could rig the results and use the vote to give the government the sheen of legitimacy, 27 opposition groups have agreed to boycott the polls. "If these elections take place, then President Nicolas Maduro will get the majority he wants in the National Assembly," Sabine Kurtenbach, from the German Institute for Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, told DW. "He has changed the rules to favor candidates and parties that are loyal to his regime," she said. "They are more likely to get seats. The opposition, which wants a change of government, doesn't have a chance of winning."
Apart from wanting to get rid of Maduro, the Venezuelan opposition does not have a common plan for a post-Maduro future. Dissident factions were not even capable of agreeing on a plan to remove the president from office. Some are cooperating, others want to stick to democratic methods, but others, such as the prominent opposition figure Maria Corina Machado, do not exclude the use of violence.
Juan Guaido, Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president, called for a boycott of legislative elections on 06 December 2020, a move critics said will consolidate President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and leave Guaido out in the political cold. Eights years into a crippling economic crisis, Venezuelans head to the polls in parliamentary elections that saw the ruling Socialist Party and its allies run virtually uncontested. As a result, President Maduro’s camp was poised to gain control of the National Assembly, the only institution not yet in its hands.
"I know that we are going to have a great triumph. I know it!" a confident Maduro told an election rally. "We are going to solve the problems we have with the new National Assembly. The opposition, the extremist right, has no plan for the country," added the Venezuelan president, whose 30-year-old son is running for a seat.
Venezuela's National Assembly was the only check on the president's power, though its decisions are routinely quashed by the Maduro-friendly Supreme Court and bypassed by the Constituent Assembly, whose members were elected in 2017 in a poll also boycotted by the opposition. Defeat would leave the opposition out in the political cold, despite its leader Guaido, the current National Assembly speaker, being recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president.
Guaido called for a boycott on grounds that "free and fair" conditions for holding elections do not exist. He labelled Sunday's poll "a fraud". Instead, the self-proclaimed interim president and his allies planned a week-long plebiscite from 07 December 2020 seeking public support to prolong the mandate of the current National Assembly. Initial enthusiasm has waned, however, with critics seeing Guaido's plebiscite ploy as a desperate gamble.
“Relations between Guaido and his international sponsors have cooled considerably,” Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, a Latin America specialist, told FRANCE 24 in an interview in November 2020. “True to his preference for strongmen and ‘winners’, [US President] Donald Trump now sees Guaido as a ‘loser’.” According to Este, the same perception is spreading among the Venezuelan public too. “The opposition has never looked so weak in the eyes of the public,” he says. “Guaido arrived with a promise to chase Maduro out of the Miraflores presidential palace, but he’s been incapable of doing so.”
Victory would provide Maduro with important validation in the eyes of his foreign allies, helping his regime circumvent US and EU sanctions, according to Luis Vicente Leon, director of pollsters Datanalisis. He wanted China to feel there's an institutional framework that can provide backing for agreements such as those on oil or infrastructure. Allies such as Russia, India, Mexico and Turkey would feel similarly reassured.
But pollsters expected turnout to be as low as 30 percent. The opposition was counting on a low turnout to undermine Maduro, who needed to show the tide of public opinion has turned away from Guaido. Opposition dissidents who criticise Guaido for calling the boycott will take part in the election, despite being accused of lending Maduro legitimacy. They are going to represent the new opposition after January 5 when the new legislature takes office.
The Guaido-led opposition lacked direction and erred by putting too much emphasis on its quest for international support. Guaido called for increased sanctions from the US and EU, even though a Datanalisis poll showed 71 percent of Venezuelans oppose more crippling sanctions.
|Acción Democrática, COPEI, & allies||944,665||17.95%|
Brito's Primero Venezuela party, along with COPEI, El Cambio and other moderate sectors of the opposition, affirmed the constitutional, peaceful and electoral nature of Venezuela's democracy, by participating in today's parliamentary elections and offering statements distancing themselves from the "soon-to-be irrelevant far-right sectors who seek political change through violence and imposition". He expressed his party's hope to become the legitimate opposition in the now legitimate legislative branch and its ambitions to assume power, through the vote, in upcoming state governor and future presidential elections.
The head of the delegation of Russian electoral observers Igor Ananskij highlighted that Venezuela’s National Assembly gained legitimacy after the elections took place. "The most important result of these elections is that Venezuela now has a legitimate National Assembly," Ananskij told Sputnik. The vice president of the Russian Parliament's Lower House (Duma) also expressed the hope that "the political crisis in Venezuela will end and it will be possible to think about the economic development of the republic." Ananskij emphasized that the elections took place within the constitutional deadline, therefore everything was legitimate.
Chilean Foreign Minister Andres Allamand stated "The Venezuelan election lacks all legitimacy: no independent electoral authority, no free political parties, no foreign observers. Chile will continue to promote the convergence of the Lima group, International Contact Group, and Stockholm Group to support a transition with a united opposition."
On 07 December 2020 the Representative of the EU stated : "The Venezuelan elections of 6 December 2020 for the National Assembly regrettably went ahead without a national agreement on electoral conditions and failed to comply with the minimum international standards for a credible process and to mobilise the Venezuelan people to participate. This lack of respect for political pluralism and the disqualification and prosecution of opposition leaders do not allow the EU to recognise this electoral process as credible, inclusive or transparent, and its results as representative of the will of the Venezuelan people."
US Secretary Pompeo said "Venezuela's electoral fraud has already been committed. The results announced by the illegitimate Maduro regime will not reflect the will of the Venezuelan people. What's happening today is a fraud and a sham, not an election.
Venezuela's opposition wrapped up a "popular consultation" on 13 December 2020, in a symbolic poll hailed as "historic" by organizers but which did not prompt the massive mobilization seen during protests in 2019. The consultation followed legislative elections in Venezuela on December 6 -- boycotted by the opposition -- which gave President Nicolas Maduro a total grip on power. According to organizers on Twitter, 6.4 million people participated in the opposition consultation, which began 08 December 2020. They included 3.2 million in person in Venezuela, 844,728 abroad and another 2.4 million online. The consultation asked Venezuelans if they supported "all mechanisms of national and international pressure" in favor of "free presidential and legislative elections." It also asked if they rejected the December 6 elections. The consultation was done in-person at nearly 3,000 sites across the country.
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