Explainer: Venezuela's 2013 Presidential Election

By Rachel Glickhouse

AS/COA provides an overview of important dates, a rundown of candidates, and explanations of key institutions and voter blocs.

Updated April 9, 2013Following the March 5 death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the Andean country plans to hold presidential elections. According to the Constitution, elections must take place within 30 days of a president’s passing. The National Electoral Council (CNE), responsible for planning and running elections, determined a schedule for the electoral process.

What challenges await Venezuela's next leader?
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AS/COA provides an overview of important dates, candidates, key institutions, and voter blocs.

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When: The election takes place on April 14, 2013. Candidates officially registered on March 11, but the CNE ruled that campaigns will only legally run from April 2 through 11. There are no runoff elections; the winning candidate is the one with the largest number of votes. It is not clear yet on which date the new president will take office.

Who: Interim President Nicolás Maduro will run against Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles. Five other candidates will also run.

  • Nicolás Maduro: This former bus driver first won election as a congressman in 1998 and was named speaker of the National Assembly in 2005. Chávez tapped him as the minister of foreign affairs in 2006, a position he held until 2012. Following Chávez’s reelection in October last year, Maduro became vice president. In December—when Chávez announced his cancer had returned and that he would undergo surgery—he named Maduro as his successor. After Chávez died, Maduro became acting president and was sworn in on March 8. The interim leader will run on the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) ticket, as well as representing 13 other left-leaning parties. His wife, Cilia Flores, is Venezuela’s attorney general. His new vice president, Jorge Alberto Arreaza Montserrat, is Chávez’s son-in-law.
  • Henrique Capriles: Representing the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition bloc, Capriles serves as governor of Miranda state, a title he has held since 2006. He first became a congressman in 1998, and founded the Justice First party in 2000. That year, he became mayor of Baruta, a municipality in Caracas, where he served until 2008. Capriles ran against Chávez in the October 2012 presidential election and lost by 11 percentage points
  • Other candidates: Five candidates will also be listed on the presidential ballot. Eusebio Mendes (Nueva Visión para mi País, a Christian party), Julio Mora (Unidad Democrática), and Fredy Tabarquino (Joven) will run. Two women who ran in October—Maria Bolivar (Partido Democrático Unido por la Paz y la Libertad) and Reina Sequera (Poder Laboral)—are also candidates.
    Follow AQ Online’s Venezuela election coverage in its In Depth Guide.

Important Institutions

  • Supreme Court: The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) is Venezuela’s highest court, made up of 32 justices. Over the course of his 14-year administration, Chávez appointed judges considered friendly to his administration. In January, the TSJ ruled that Chávez could be sworn in at a later date after he missed his inauguration. On March 8, the court ratified Maduro as president, and decided that he could serve as interim head of state while running for office.
  • National Electoral Council: Known as the CNE, this government authority oversees elections at the federal, state, and local levels. Five main officials, who gain their posts by majority election in the National Assembly, run the CNE. The agency chose a date for the election that falls 40 days after Chávez’s death, and will oversee the electoral process on April 14.
  • The Military: Chávez, a career military officer, had close ties with the armed forces. Following Chávez’s death, Defense Minister Diego Molero Bellavia gave his support to Maduro and urged voters to choose the interim president. 
  • The Media: By law, candidates are only permitted four minutes per day on each TV station, and only five minutes daily on each radio station. However, concerns about bias from state-run media during the last election could also be an issue during the upcoming campaign.

Legal Issues

  • Interim President: Some argue that since Chávez was never officially sworn in as president, the president of the National Assembly should become president, as Article 233 of the Constitution stipulates. The opposition refused to attend Maduro’s swearing-in ceremony, saying it was unconstitutional.
  • Maduro’s Candidacy: Some members of the opposition say that Maduro cannot legally run for president. The two arguments revolve around Articles 57 and 58 of Venezuela’s electoral law. The first says that government officials running for office must temporarily step down once they begin campaigning. The second article stipulates that government officials running for reelection may maintain their posts, leading some observers to say that Maduro was never elected president and, therefore, cannot seek reelection.
  • Election Date: According to Article 233 of the Constitution, elections must be held within 30 days of a president’s death. However, the CNE set a date that falls 40 days after Chávez’s passing. Those familiar with the country’s electoral system say at least 40 days are needed to prepare, and constitutional experts told the BBC that 30 days is an “unrealistic” period of time to organize an election.
  • Campaign Dates: For this election, the CNE approved a window of only 10 days for campaigning to take place. Under Venezuela’s electoral law, the CNE has the right to choose the campaign period for each election. During the October election, campaigns ran over 96 days.

Voter Blocs: Venezuela has nearly 19 million registered voters and saw an 80 percent turnout rate in October. Several voter groups will prove important in this election.

  • Chávez supporters: Around 7.9 million voters are registered PSUV members. In October, Chávez won with 8.19 million votes. As Chávez’s appointed successor, Maduro said he aims to receive 10 million votes “in Chávez’s honor.”
  • The opposition: Capriles received nearly 6.6 million votes in October. Though last year Chávez won by a narrower margin than in previous elections, Capriles now faces a country in mourning during the April vote. The opposition also suffered a blow in December, when it lost key governorships during the regional elections.
  • Expatriates: In October, around 100,000 Venezuelans living abroad cast their ballots. The overwhelming majority—90 percent—voted for Capriles. In past elections, too, expatriates often showed support for the opposition.
  • Undecided voters: Prior to the October election, this group of voters cast doubt on a guaranteed win for Chávez. According to a February poll about a potential election with Maduro and Capriles, around 21 percent were undecided.

The Polls

In Venezuela, election polls can vary widely,  and experts say that some polls are politically biased. Nevertheless, Maduro leads most surveys by a comfortable margin. A late March Datanálisis poll gave the interim leader a 16-point lead with 50 percent of the vote, compared to nearly 34 percent for Capriles. Other polls, like IVAD and Hinterlaces, found an even higher margin for Maduro. On the other hand, a poll released this week by Datamatica poll put Capriles ahead of Maduro by 5 points.

Social Media

Around 3 million Venezuelans use Twitter, and an estimated 12.5 million use Facebook. As with the October election, candidates have turned to social media to campaign.

Maduro joined Twitter on March 17, gaining over 634,000 followers since then. He also has an official Facebook page—set up in November—with nearly 59,000 fans. Capriles uses Facebook and Twitter, and gathered large followings ahead of last year’s presidential election. On Twitter, Capriles has nearly 2.5 million followers and over 1 million fans on Facebook. Given the short official campaign period, the two candidates used social media to gather supporters outside of the government-sanctioned dates.