EU reports improvements, old tactics in Venezuela election

Venezuela’s main opposition parties took part in the elections on Sunday for the first time since 2017. But regardless of who won or lost, many saw the election as a test of the country’s electoral system – long discredited by irregularities, including decisions by the National Electoral Council to disqualify parties and some of the most popular opposition candidates.

The European Union, motivated by formal negotiations between representatives of President Nicolás Maduro and his opponents, earlier this year accepted the Venezuelan authorities’ invitation to send election observers, responding to a demand from the opposition. But those talks were suspended last month.

About 8.15 million of the country’s 21 million registered voters voted in more than 3,000 contests, including races for governor and mayor.

The EU report, presented to journalists by Head of Mission Isabel Santos, highlighted a series of irregularities affecting the level playing field for participating in elections.

Election anomalies cited included delays in opening and closing polling centers, privileged access for pro-government candidates for gasoline – for which most Venezuelans typically wait hours in long lines despite the status. of the country as a major oil producer – disproportionately favorable coverage for the ruling party, state television and the use of free food and other goods as political tools.

Observers also said they witnessed the setting up of so-called red checkpoints, tents used by the ruling party to control voters. Checkpoints near polling stations are usually run by ruling party allies who ask people to see the cards they receive from the government for food and other aids.

“Across the country, except in the state of Amazonas, abuse of assisted voting has been observed,” according to the EU report, which also states that one voter died and two were injured in the shooting outside a polling center in the western state of Zulia. Observers were present at 665 polling centers in the country’s 23 states and in the Capital District.

Venezuela’s majority pro-Maduro National Assembly in May appointed two well-known opponents to the leadership of the National Electoral Council, including an activist who had been jailed for participating in actions to destabilize the government. This is the first time since 2005 that the Venezuelan opposition has more than one member on the board of directors of the five-person electoral body.

Santos called the board “the most balanced in the past 20 years.”

Observers have said they will present an in-depth report early next year.

In August, representatives of Maduro’s government and allies of US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó began a formal dialogue, led by Norwegian diplomats and hosted by Mexico, to find a common way out. of their country’s political impasse.

At the end of the month, the opposition’s decision to participate in the elections was announced. For months, Maduro’s representatives had also had behind-the-scenes talks with allies of former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

Those talks have been put on hold following Cape Verde’s extradition to the United States of a key Maduro ally last month to face a money laundering charge.

Maduro, after the publication of the preliminary results of Sunday’s elections, called on winners and losers to participate in “political dialogue”. Earlier, however, he had said formal dialogue with the opposition could not resume at this time.

Santos said on Tuesday that fair elections and formal dialogue are necessary for the country’s future.

“Only Venezuelans and no one else in a process of comprehensive legal dialogue can decide the future of their country,” she said.

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