November 7-2011 Unfair Elections, a Chronology of Undemocratic Incidents since 1999.
By Vladimir Chelminski (unpublished)
When Hugo Chavez (aka HC) won his first election in December 1998, Venezuela was a country in disarray. There was freedom of expression, information, migration, association, and political participation. The Central (or Federal) Government was divided horizontally into rather autonomous Executive Power, Congress and the Judiciary. Besides the Central Government, there were State and Municipal Governments.
Voting to elect authorities was timely and for the most part clean. Political parties in power usually were punished by the electorate. The arbiter was tightly controlled by the vying political parties at least until early 1998—it had credibility inside and outside of the country.
Electoral rules were not perfect, but at least they were the product of consensus among the competing political parties. When a staunch enemy of the system including the electoral arbiter like HC got the votes, his victory was admitted without delay.
These civil and political liberties began in earnest in 1958 and though slowly, constantly evolved for the better until 1998. During the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s these liberties were the envy of democrats throughout Latin America. Costa Rica was the only other country in the region with a tradition of civil and political freedom.
Yet, despite the liberties mentioned, the country was failing. There was crime, unacceptable levels of basic services like justice, health, education electric power, a housing deficit always growing bigger and most conspicuous of all, an ill economy that offered few decent jobs. The chance for someone born in the slums to honestly work his or her way up was almost nil. Since circa 1977, people living in this (energy rich) country never heard good economic news strong enough to offer hope for the poor. Populist talk, moderate or exacerbated, has been a fact of life since 1936.
In my opinion, the deep social problems, associated with the malfunctioning of the economy, were the result of lack of economic freedom coupled with a state too heavy, corrupt and inefficient.
The few economic rights spelled out in the 1961 Constitution were suspended the same the day the constitution was approved--until July 5th. 1991. Price controls were ubiquitous (except for the period between 1989-93 when prices were mostly free), exchange controls existed in four out of eight administrations (1958 through 1998). Foreign companies allowed to stay in 1974, since then were harassed until 1989; foreign oil companies were “nationalized” in 1976 (until the mid 1990’s); whatever the state categorized as “basic” became a state monopoly (steel and aluminum for instance), taxes were upped by each administration.
Alas, all these measures against economic freedom counted with the approval of most Venezuelans. The different governments with their laws and executive orders, the opposition political parties and other elites almost without exception acquiescing-- to say the least-- and the public jubilant about them.
The prolonged malfunctioning of the economy set the stage for a charismatic man that told the people that the country’s vast resources had been dilapidated by the different governments, that the rich had what the poor were lacking, that the poor did not have the slightest responsibility in what happened to them, that they deserved better government services, that the political parties were corrupt and should disappear. All these assurances were partly true or at least carried a grain of truth. They were also fallacious and at times absurd.
In their desperation and ignorance, the great majority of the people could not recognize their real problem. Venezuelans thought the situation would not get worse with a heavier dose of populism or even with communism. They did not value the civil and political freedom that, in spite of widespread poverty problems, they had enjoyed till then.
About the arbiter and the electoral system
Before HC’s arrival in December 1998, Congress made a huge mistake reforming the Suffrage Law in May 98. Until then, the arbiter (National Electoral Council, aka NEC) was composed of 11 directors, five representing the mayor political parties plus 6 others that though not directly associated to them, but were sympathetic.
The change in the May 98 law meant that from now on, NEC’s directorate would be integrated by seven honorable –non partisan at least in theory--persons. The political parties were taken out of the directorate. From then on NEC’s vigilantes in voting centers would come from draws among the constituents, no longer from the political parties. Fortunately, at least for a while, the all important national identification system, matrix of the voter registrar would continue to be closely watched by opposing political parties1.
Thereafter, the new (Bolivarian) Constitution of 1999 would reaffirm the idea that the political parties would not be part of the NEC.
Your editor believes that the arbiter’s directorate and voting centers watched by the competing political parties (usually the most important five out of a total of 11) until May 1998, was a rather successful formula. That way it was difficult for parties, even for the strongest, to take advantage of one another. It will be interesting to see the National Assembly nominating a NEC’s directorate that will be truly “impartial” and without connections to political parties, particularly if one sole party is in control of the assembly.
Characteristics of our electoral system
-According to our laws (Constitution 1961 through December 1999, and the “Bolivarian” Constitution since then, government functionaries at all levels are not allowed to partake in political campaigns.
Not all modern democracies have rules likewise. With its advantages and disadvantages, the fact is that in Venezuela it is against the law for government employees to be distracted in political campaigns.
- Our laws call for “proportional representation” in all elected deliberative bodies such as National Assembly (or National Congress), State Legislatures and Municipal Councils. (Article 113 of Constitution 1961-1999, articles 63 and 186 of “Bolivarian” Constitution since January 2000, and various other laws)
This means that, after the elections for deliberative bodies, the various contestants will get a representation close to the percentage of the votes that they get.
It is a system with a good dose of fairness, accepted in many modern democratic countries, although not accepted in all (the USA or The United Kingdom for example that have a majority system).
Your editor considers the “proportional representation system” fair by itself, and notes it is written on stone in both Constitutions of 1961 and 1999. A major advantage of the proportional system in an immature democracy is that it becomes more difficult for the strongest party to use its government power to annihilate its competitors.
The “Bolivarian” revolution grossly disregarded the constitutional principle of proportional representation of the minorities when it was time to select de deputies that would write the new Constitution in 1999. For that Constituent Assembly of 133 deputies, with some 60% of the votes, the Bolivarians got 128 seats or 96%.
In the new Constitution of 1999, article 63 guaranteed the principle of proportional representation2.
Between 2004 and 2009 the “bolivarians” flouted the rules related to the proportional representation principle through the use of so called “morochas” in Spanish or “duplicate parties” (voting once legitimately for names proposed by an established party, then unfairly directing the party’s list vote, to a phony party registered with the sole purpose of lessening the legal principle of proportional representation)
When the “Revolutionary National Assembly” changed the Suffrage law in August 12-2009, it further reduced the concept of proportional representation mandated by the Constitution. With the new text, the use of “morochas or duplicates” would play no role to circumvent the law, as the law itself reduced the weight of the proportional vote in favor of the majority vote. Furthermore, the new law gave the NEC more freedom to gerrymand.
The revolutionary Constitution of 1999, maintained the principle of proportional representation in elections for deliberative bodies, but at the same time, according to article 186, it gave too much representation in the National Assembly to the least populated states where the “revolutionaries” have more chances to win elections3. It called for a National Assembly with 165 deputies. Three of them, representing the indigenous (or aborigine), that would quite likely turn out to be “bolivarians”. Of the remaining 162 members, all 23 states would have at least three deputies, regardless of their size.
This over-representation to the small states played a major role in the national assembly elected on September 26TH-2010 for a period of five years. The overall vote was opposition 52%, the revolutionaries 48%. Yet, despite this difference against HC, the National Assembly of 165 deputies turned out to have 98 bolivarians or 59% (including three indigenous) and the opposition only 67 deputies or 41%. In this evident disproportion of seats and votes, also played a role the unchecked gerrymandering done by the NEC on January 2010 in the municipalities where HC seemed to be weak.
Until “bolivarians” rose to power in 1999, there were both privately owned and government owned broadcast stations. The majority were private. Government television and radio stations—the minority-- were not political players; they were mainly dedicated to entertainment (without advertisements). The private or commercial media was mainly dedicated to entertainment as well, but in different degrees it also dedicated itself to broadcast news, third party opinions and their own opinions. As a general rule, they were mostly critical of whichever government was in power. Owners, editors, journalists, photographers, opinion makers, analysts and commentators did not have to fear the authorities, norattacks on the streets from government sympathizers. Freedom of speech or expression through the media, and freedom to choose stations and programs, could be taken for granted.
With HC’s revolution, it has all changed. As of now, there is only one TV station (Globovision) daring to show problems, protests, the voice of political dissenters and even the voice of “chavistas” complaining. But Globovision operates with an open free signal restricted to only Caracas and Carabobo State. Through paid cable it goes further. All in all, only 42% of the population having a television set may see it 4. It broadcasts under enormous pressure from the government. The other TV stations have been neutralized or closed up, such as RCTV’s open signal shut down in May 2007, and RCTV International (only through the costly cable) taken out in January 2010.
Thirty two radio stations were closed on July 2009, and many more will be, according togovernment statements. The majority of the radio broadcasters remaining in the air have changed their profiles to avoid irritating the government, hoping to continue broadcasting.
There are journalists jailed, in exile and standing trial, accused of the worst crimes.
HC likes to abuse the media. By February 2nd 2010, his eleventh anniversary as President, he forced a link up of all media to the official channel, his number 2000 (About once every other day, almost the equivalent of 60 days of uninterrupted talk).
In addition to those obligatory comprehensive link ups, almost every Sunday HC has a talk show lasting about 6 hours. Indeed, HC has all but monopolized his own voice.
During the first semester 2010 HC’s record abusing the media is the worse so far: 38 linkups of all TV channels and radio stations. 15 Alo Presidente, 9 interviews, 3 press conferences (only friendly journalists invited), 105 other programs. In total, 496 hours on the air, about 3 hours per day according to Súmate. El Nacional July 13th-10
The independent newspapers cannot be too critical, or else they might not get the dollars “allotted by the state” that they need to buy paper. Also owners, journalists, and commentators are liable to the penal code, which may put anyone in jail for “defaming authority”, or for “instigating hate”5.
HC quite frequently tells us that the revolution is peaceful, “but armed”. In almost all of his speeches he reminds Venezuelans that the revolution came to stay forever, that there will be war if the opposition wins an election.
These ubiquitous threats combined with HC’s abuse of the media and of all state resources, are the main frame present in Venezuela’s frequent elections.
Generalities on main electoral cheatings
--The arbiter leans heavily towards the “bolivarians”. Its board composed of five directors, carried three shameless “revolutionaries” from August 2003 until September 2004. Since then it has had four militants of HC’s party and one independent.
--The voter’s registrar since August 2003 is in the hands of the bolivarians. When a copy of it is given to the opposition parties, they cannot do much with it, since it is handed without the addresses of those listed. Thus, there is little to verify.
--HC abuses using the media to campaign all the time, for himself or for his buddies. He enhances his government policies and destroys his adversaries with slander and ridicule. He knows that lies, misinterpretation or slander can be sold to the masses if repeated often enough.
--Besides the media, at HC’s disposal are unlimited funds, stadiums, concert halls, hotels, airplanes, billboards, the facades of buildings, newspapers.
The opposition can hardly get any funding. The government budget does not help finance opposition political parties as it used to before HC, and donations are hard to get, because donators will likely have to face the tax authorities, or the Consumer Protection Police or an array of other government agencies.
A major breakthrough against the opposition, came on December 23-10 with a Law for the Defense of the National Sovereignty and Auto-determination. It means that political parties, NGOs or individuals dedicated to politics or to the promotion or defense of political or civil rights, or to exert control over government institutions, may not accept any funding from abroad. Paradoxically, HC finances activists of his liking all over the world, and in the 1998 campaign received funds from Spanish banks that he failed to admit.
--The “bolivarians” violate their own laws all the time, even when the polls show that they have a sure win. The best explanation to this paradoxical behavior is that they want opponents to feel hopeless and unwilling to go voting. The higher the abstention they may foster, the better results for the “bolivarians”.
--The Smartmatic computers used since 2004 are more than suspect. The least the NEC could do in order to build confidence in the system is to allow for the auditing the opposition requests. The NEC has systematically denied full audits.
--For all the elections we have had so far, the law stated that on Election Day voting centers would close at 4 pm, except those where voters are still in line. Yet, “bolivarians” since they got control of the arbiter after August 25-2003, in all elections flouted this rule. Centers without lines of people waiting to vote, have closed later, following public instructions from the NEC .
Your editor believes doing so would give them a chance to fetch their political followers that abstained (they have several ways to know who did not go voting) and push them to cast their votes, providing transportation or even a gratuity if necessary.
Longer hours also allowed their militants to come to the centers and vote a second time in place of “those that did not go to vote”, at least in the numerous centers where the opposition could not get the witnesses.
---Voters HC have been led to believe that the vote is not secret6. True or not, the sole suspicion of this idea, induces many would be voters against HC, to forgo the vote. The main reasons for this suspicion are the Fingerprint Checking Machines used since 2004, the Tascon List, with the names of those that signed a petition requesting a recall referendum in 2003 and subtle and not so subtle comments made in this regard by HC and others close to him.
---Opposition parties have not been able to have enough presence in the voting tables/centers. After its nadir in 2004, the problem is diminishing, according to Súmate. Yet, for the last contest on February 15th-09, after much improvement recognized by Súmate, still 20% of the tables/centers were without opposition vigilance. The lack of volunteers to be present at the voting centers is due to fear, originated in HC’s constant belligerent speech, and police and armed forces un-disposed to stop crime. The later it is at night, the more dangerous it is for opposition witnesses.
Traditional political parties used to be fairly good at making sure that votes would not be stolen at the voting centers. These parties are barely alive since HC acceded to the presidency-- they lack the necessary resources to watch the majority of the centers. The almost death of these parties can be blamed on their own mistakes and lack of charismatic leaders, but also because HC has used all his powers to annihilate them, at least those opposing him.
---Last but not least, a distortion in the postulation system for deliberative bodies commonly referred to as “morochas” or “duplicates”, between 2005 and 2009.
The party willing to take advantage of this scam tells its followers to cast their nominal vote for their favorite candidate in the party (as expected), then –here is the trick-- to cast their list vote for a phony or ghost party that has been included in the ballot. By so doing, the political party flouts the rules designed to assure proportional representation (as opposed to majority representation), and may get a much higher representation in the Assembly than they would get otherwise, without the use of the ghost party.
After changes in the law in August 12th -09, the concept of proportional representation all but disappears and there is no more advantage in creating the ghost party to gather the list vote.
(The Constitution in article 63 calls for a proportional system).
Hugo Chavez, a most terrible looser:
Although with very high abstention, HC has won most elections in which he directly or indirectly participated. In the few he did not win, he barely recognized defeat and acted strongly to make sure his policies prevailed any way.
For example, on November 8th-98 (congressional elections) his fledgling party did quite well but did not gain absolute control. So he reacted by declaring that the new parliament did not reflect political realities, that it was illegitimate, and that the elections should have been held together with the ones for President. By December of the following year, that elected parliament not under his total control, was dissolved.
On October 25th-01, in elections for the main confederation of labor union’s directorate and Presidency, his candidate Aristobulo Isturiz lost. HC never recognized the defeat and the NEC annulled the results on January 12-05. That Labor Confederation is about dead, because since that election on 01, it has not been allowed to renew its directorate through new elections, and thus has not been recognized at the Labor Department (Ministerio del Trabajo).
Regarding the referendum of December 2nd- 07 where the people were asked to confirm or reject 69 changes to the Constitution written in 99, he accepted defeat, but called it narrow and ___________ . Suspiciously the votes were never counted to the end. Since then, he passed laws to get all he wanted anyway.
On November 23rd-08, in elections for Governors, State Legislative Assemblies and Mayors, HC won most of them, but did not win the governorships of Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, Tachira and Nueva Esparta, nor several other Mayoralties like the one for the greater Caracas. He declared war to his elected adversaries and within months took away their sources of income such as roads, airports, ports. In the case of the top Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, HC confiscated nearly all his budget, did not allow him to enter the official offices of the Mayoralty and created a new “higher” position given to Jackeline Faria, to lead the governance of the city.
Authorities in traditional public universities are chosen by elections. Since his candidates to run these universities have almost always lost, HC has created new universities where authorities are not chosen through elections, but appointed by him. In the meantime he has slowly suffocated traditional universities that depend entirely on public funds.
On September 26th ,2010 there were parliamentary elections for a total of 165 seats. The results were 98 bolivarian deputies to 67 opponents7. This margin did not make HC comfortable.
For that reason, he asked the incumbent assembly (155 deputies out of 167 in his favor) whose term will expire on January 4th 2011 to give him the power to legislate by decree during 18 months. With the new parliament mostly annulled for that period of time, he also asked the incumbent parliament to swiftly name replacements of the Supreme Court’s magistrates due to retire in 2012. If the newly elected Assembly were to name, as it should, the new Supreme Court magistrates, a minimum consensus would have been necessary. Last but not least, the law for political parties was changed to impede parliamentarians to vote against their party’s commands (this is a ruling to assure loyalty among his own party).
If HC has a way of always prevailing-- even after electoral defeat-- many opponents tend to abstain, a formidable advantage for HC to keep winning elections.
The “Bolivarian Government
Elections are frequent8, though dodgy as this writing tries to convey.
Since HC changed the Constitution in 1999 a year after winning his first election, in theory the central government is divided horizontally into five autonomous branches (instead of the classical three) that must collaborate with one and other. Also in theory, there are autonomous State, Local and Sub-local Governments. In reality, there is one boss who controls all branches tightly, and who tells other elected authorities what they have to do. No one from his party may contradict HC without having to leave immediately, or even go to jail. There are some State and Local Mayors elected that oppose HC, but at great personal risks and with their funding unreliable at best.
HC tries to look respectful of the law. In reality, he writes it, he changes it, and he violates it as he sees fit. When he considers it appropriate, HC names the judges, instructs them and removes them.
There is liberty of expression, according to the Constitution. In reality, the independent media gets smaller, less resourceful and more intimidated all the time. If you speak up, you may be put in jail and later tried accused of causing anxiety, vilifying the authorities, conspiring to destabilize, or treason to the motherland or instigating hate.
Elected governors and mayors, if they are not bolivarian will be condemned to fail
HC has tried to destroy all elected authorities with his speech, denying them the funds that are due according to the laws and to the budgets. The reader should bear in mind that all oil income, value added taxes and income taxes go directly to the national coffers and thereafter are distributed by the central government). HC denies or pays too slowly the funds due to these authorities, does something similar with the asphalt, takes away facilities that may produce revenues for these authorities (like ports, airports, road tolls in 2009), creates new positions or government or military departments to de facto substitute governors and mayors he dislikes. The abuse may go as far as waiting for a non Bolivarian mayor to have a construction plan for, say a bus terminal, sports facilities and/or a day-out clinic, and then confiscate the land alleging the need of the central government to build houses. If there is a natural catastrophe HC might design his own ad hoc military plan to help, but will refuse direct aid to a non bolivarian governor 9.
Condemning these authorities to fail seems for HC to translate into future electoral victories. This absurd policy began in earnest after HC lost so many governors and mayors in the November 23rd-08 regional elections, but it existed less sophisticated and directed against fewer authorities since his access to power in 1999.
In this paper, your editor tries to show how HC or his followers in government positions often violate the electoral laws and the most elemental tenets of democratic elections. After such multitude of illegalities and dishonest behavior, the Venezuelan elections since 1999 should be considered fraudulent.