For the first time in 15 years, international monitors will be deployed to Venezuela to observe the regional and local elections scheduled for November 21.
The Maduro government’s crackdown on dissent means that these elections will not be free or fair, leading some to fear that granting access to monitors is a strategy to try to legitimize a sham.
But monitors could play a crucial role, if they are able to effectively use the broad access agreed by electoral authorities, promptly questioning the reality on the ground and documenting rights violations.
The contours of state control in Venezuela
The repression has fostered an atmosphere of intimidation. For years, elections in Venezuela have been plagued with irregularities, allegations of fraud, and an uneven playing field due to human rights violations.
The authorities have disqualifiedpolitical opponents detained and arbitrarily prosecuted; carried out political takeovers of opposition parties; and he used hunger as a tool to control potential voters.
The Supreme Court, which lacks independence, has interfered with the leadership or internal structure of eight opposition political parties since 2012.
In mid-2020, he orchestrated the take the control of three opposition parties and appointed government supporters to lead them, allowing them to use party names and logos.
He also appointed government sympathizers to the National Electoral Council (CNE), despite constitutional provisions that the National Assembly, then the only opposition-led institution that acted as a control of the executive branch, should make the selection.
Last December, Maduro’s supporters gained control of the National Assembly in widely criticized elections that were boycotted by most opposition parties, and in which fewer than one third registered voters participated.
Many governments in both the region and Europe said the elections did not meet the minimum requirements to be considered free and fair.
In February, the Comptroller’s Office disqualified 27 opposition politicians, members of the opposition-led National Assembly, who had planned to run for election.
After increased international pressure, a new National Electoral Council took office in May with two out of five members linked to the opposition.
The new council negotiated the deployment of a Election Observation Mission of the European Union, a small panel of electoral experts from the United Nations and a mission of experts from the Carter Center to monitor the November vote.
Who are the experts monitoring Sunday’s vote?
The European Union deployed its observation mission in Venezuela in October; additional observers will join them this weekend. Since their arrival, they have met with key stakeholders to assess the situation.
The agreement signed by the EU and the Electoral Council of Venezuela grants observers full access to political parties, candidates, electoral authorities and other actors, as well as electoral colleges.
The mission can publicly share its evaluation of the electoral process both before and during the elections.
He will then present a preliminary report immediately after the election, and a longer one two to three months later with recommendations. If the conditions of the agreement are not met, the EU can withdraw its observers.
A group of 12 members of the European Parliament from various political parties is also expected to accompany the mission.
The United Nations secretariat announced on October 14 that it would deploy a UN Panel of Election Experts for the November elections.
These three experts “will follow the electoral process” and will present to the Secretary General an “independent internal report on the general development of the elections.”
On October 27, the Carter Center announced that it would deploy six more experts based on an agreement with the Electoral Council that granted them “sufficient access to the process to carry out [their] works”.
They will evaluate aspects such as the campaign environment, media freedom, disinformation and disinformation trends; and respect for fundamental rights in the country.
The new Electoral Council also announced that some opposition political parties could participate in the November elections. The main opposition parties confirmed their participation as Unitary platform.
Observing elections could help expose deep problems in Venezuela
For all Venezuelans to be able to exercise their right to vote and run for public office, it is essential to allow open debate in an environment free of fear, violence, and intimidation by government officials, security forces, and pro-government armed groups.
All political parties should be able to freely elect the leadership of their choice without undue government or judicial interference. The opposition should be able to freely share their views in the media, on social media and on the streets.
Arbitrary charges against opposition politicians must be dropped, people arbitrarily detained should be released, and people arbitrarily disqualified from running for public office should have the right to do so.
The government and its supporters must not politically discriminate against opponents and critics, even limiting their access to subsidized food and public services.
The government must also ensure that all Venezuelans can vote effectively – a particular concern for low-income Venezuelans, who due to fuel shortages have limited access to public transportation to polling stations.
Independent media and civil society must be able to report on the process and conditions without retaliation, and an independent judiciary must impartially resolve complaints and deter voter fraud, intimidation and other abuses.
None of these conditions are met today in Venezuela. The presence of monitors with a broad mandate and access, who have experience in dealing with repressive governments, has the potential to help objectively highlight these deep problems as they occur.
The monitors could also help lay the foundations to guarantee the conditions that allow Venezuelans to exercise their rights in future elections. All those involved should seize this opportunity by helping supervisors to fully exercise their mandates.
José Miguel Vivanco is the Americas director for Human Rights Watch and Tamara Taraciuk Broner is the deputy director.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism