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Explainer: Venezuela's Municipal Elections

Venezuela voter

On December 8, Venezuelans head to the polls to elect mayors and city council members. (AP Photo)

December 04, 2013

On December 8, Venezuelans head to the polls to elect mayors and city council members in the country’s fourth election in 14 months. These local elections were postponed three times, most recently following the late President Hugo Chávez’s death in March. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will face off against the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, with President Nicolás Maduro and opposition Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles rallying support for respective candidates. The election will serve as a test for both the president’s administration during a time of high inflation and shortages of basic goods like flour and toilet paper, as well as the opposition in the aftermath of a close presidential race in April. AS/COA Online looks at how the election will work and what’s at stake.

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Number of Seats up for Vote

Venezuelans will elect 337 mayors and 2,455 city councilmen for four-year terms. Both mayors and councilmen are eligible for reelection. There are no runoffs; victors receive a majority of votes.

Voters, Turnout, and Observers

Learn more about Venezuela's vote in a guide to four Latin American elections in the last quarter of 2013.

Over 19 million Venezuelans are eligible to vote in this election. Voting is not mandatory, and although expats can vote in presidential elections, they cannot participate in municipal ones. During the April 2013 presidential election, around 80 percent of voters turned out to the polls. But during the last nationwide mayoral election in 2008, abstention stood at 35 percent. Venezuelans show the highest rates of confidence in democracy compared to any country in Latin America, according to the 2013 Latinobarómetro survey.

Around 50 international observers and over 3,400 Venezuelan observers are eligible to monitor the elections. Approximately 113,000 members of the military will provide security at voting centers on election day.

Key Posts

Among the most coveted mayoralties is the metropolitan area of Caracas, the five municipalities encompassing the capital, and oil-producing city Maracaibo.

The two candidates running in metropolitan Caracas are the PSUV’s Ernesto Villegas, the former information minister, and current MUD Mayor Antonio Ledezma. A Consultores 21 poll in November gave Ledezma an 11-point lead. In Caracas’ Sucre municipality, opposition Mayor Carlos Ocariz will defend his seat against PSUV candidate Antonio "El Potro" Álvarez, a singer and a former baseball player. An early November Datanalisis poll gave Ocariz a nearly 40-point lead. In Libertador, another large Caracas municipality, current PSUV mayor Jorge Rodríguez leads in the Ivad and Datanalisis polls by 10 points against MUD candidate Ismael García, a congressman. 

In Maracaibo—an opposition stronghold—MUD Mayor Eveling Trejo de Rosales seeks reelection against PSUV candidate Miguel Ángel Pérez Pirela, a television host. A November Ivad poll gave Trejo de Rosales a 20-point lead.

Election Issues

Analysts say this election will serve as a test of political clout for Chávez’s party and the opposition, and as a way to measure support for President Nicolás Maduro’s administration at a time of high inflation and food shortages. While the vote is local, both sides aim to extend support for parties on a national level. Alberto Barrera Tyszka, a Venezuelan novelist, wrote in a November El Nacional op-ed that the elections have become a way “to feed polarization,” and that the government is using December 8 to this end.

During the 2008 municipal elections, the PSUV won over 80 percent of the country’s mayoralties. A November ICS poll showed the ruling party could win nearly 70 percent of mayor’s seats, which would mean an increase in opposition-held mayoralties. This time, the PSUV put up numerous celebrity candidates in a bid to boost support. Plus, Maduro decreed that December 8 will become the “Day of Loyalty and Love for Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez and the Homeland.” Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Court, said she doesn’t believe the decree broke electoral laws.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Henrique Capriles has channeled discontent over issues like the economy and alleged voting fraud to garner support for the MUD. Writing for Caracas Chronicles, Juan Nagel notes the election will be critical for Capriles and will serve as a “dress rehearsal” for a potential referendum to recall Maduro or a constituent assembly in 2014. Capriles and Leopoldo López, another prominent member of the opposition, have pointed to the Enabling Law passed last month as a reason to vote for the MUD. They said that the law, which gives Maduro decree powers for 12 months, will not solve the country’s economic problems and is another reason to vote for the opposition. 

Increasingly frequent blackouts represent another important issue used by both sides. While the opposition identify them as another symptom of problems caused by PSUV leadership, Maduro has blamed “sabotage” for the outages, including one that knocked out electricity in 70 percent of the country in October and another in Caracas on December 2. The president claimed last month that the opposition was planning a blackout on December 8 to disrupt the elections.

Finally, the opposition worries that should the PSUV lose seats during the election, it could put more effort in expanding the country’s commune system, thereby chipping away at municipal government power. There are now over 1,400 comunas—community-based bodies that implement social programs, infrastructure projects, and local services—and the government aims to double that number by 2019.