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Summary – Venezuela's December Elections: A Democratic Turning Point?

Venezuelans with flag

Venezuela is scheduled to hold legislative elections December 6. (Image: AP)

October 26, 2015

Speakers:

  • Marianela Balbi, Executive Director, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela
  • Mercedes de Freitas, Executive Director, Transparencia Venezuela
  • Marco Antonio Ponce, Executive Director, Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social
  • Miriam Kornblith, Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, National Endowment for Democracy (moderator)
  • Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, Council of the Americas (host)

Summary:

On October 22, Council of the Americas (COA) hosted a discussion on Venezuela’s legislative elections, which are scheduled for December 6. Panelists addressed the context in which the elections will take place and tactics used by the government of President Nicolás Maduro to alter the electoral outcome and the media coverage.



Widespread Discontent

With negative GDP projections, inflation estimates reaching 180 percent, shortages of basic goods, border disputes, and what Macro Antonio Ponce described as a “weakened democracy lacking social rights,” the speakers agreed that the context for the upcoming elections is not ideal.

As of January 2015, Venezuela has been the site of more than 2,800 protests. According to data from Ponce’s organization, Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social, protestors are demanding better social rights, jobs, basic services, education, as well as a solution to the shortages of basic goods, all contentious subjects throughout the current year. The Venezuelan government has had a consistent no-response policy when it comes to public demands, and now, “Venezuelans are losing their patience with the lack of response,” stated Ponce, pointing out an increase in lootings and robberies in major cities.

However, with elections approaching, an unexpected announcement to raise the minimum wage, and forced lower-cost sales in appliances and household items, the panelists suspected that the Dakazo phenomenon is underway. The Dakazo has been implemented previously to transform public discontent into positive electoral outcomes. This time around, the government is expecting yet another successful result.

Difficulties of Information Gathering

Transparencia Venezuela's Mercedes de Freitas stated that the road to the Venezuelan elections is paved with inequality, injustice, lack of competitiveness, and corruption. While the Venezuelan Constitution prohibits the use of public funds for campaigning or political parties’ activities, there is great doubt over whether candidates are upholding the law. Public campaign financing information is not available, and even if it were, the lack of sanctions or penalties for breaking these laws are not written or enforced.

The small community of media outlets is also struggling to find and share information on the upcoming elections. Government tactics—including the centralization of printing press materials, the use of judicial procedures against journalists and media outlets, media buyouts, withholding of licenses, and overall censorship—have harmed the possibility of a complete coverage of the December elections.  Nonetheless, Marianela Balbi of Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela divulged that there are other nonconventional media platforms that are being used to cover the elections. Digital platforms, social media, and GMS cell phone networks are becoming more and more popular for both candidates and voters. Moreover, journalists are working to establish networks with national electoral observers. These networks will provide a more in-depth and complete coverage for all media outlets. Ultimately, however, “Foreign correspondents are the most reliable channels,” said Balbi.

Venezuelan civil society leaders urged the international community to be aware of the changes that Venezuela will be going through during the electoral period and after. Regardless of the results of the December 6 elections, the panelists predict more economic hardship in 2016 due to the structural flaws in the system.