The end of last year saw a return to the negotiation table by the Venezuelan government and the Unitary Platform, a main opposition faction. This latest dialogue effort started in Mexico in 2021, was suspended by the government for over a year, and re-established in late November 2022. The international community has largely supported this process, and seen it as an opportunity to attain the necessary electoral guarantees that would ensure free and fair elections for the upcoming presidential and legislative and regional races, which should happen in 2024 and 2025 respectively by constitutional mandate.

However, the  only agreement to come out of Mexico so far dealt strictly with social needs and excluded political or electoral negotiations. The agreement signed of November 26, 2022, stipulates that the Unitary Platform would solicit the release of Venezuelan government funds (2.700 million dollars), captured by sanctions, to be used for humanitarian relief and social protection programs, with United Nations’ oversight. It’s imperative that further steps of the negotiation process consider the need to carve a path towards democratic re-institutionalization for Venezuelans.

Strengthening, or at the very least maintaining the incipient electoral independence is paramount, to restore democracy in Venezuela.  The country has signed and ratified all relevant international and regional treaties on civil and political rights, but the absence of rule of law and specially, the lack of independence of the judiciary, make for an uneven playing field in electoral contests. While this generalized climate of questionability of the conditions persists, the current group of rectors of the National Electoral Council (CNE), appointed in May 2021, is recognized as “the most balanced of the last 20 years.” [1]

Recommendations from the European Union Electoral Mission

The regional and municipal elections of November 21, 2021, were observed by the European Union’s Electoral Observation Mission, which was deployed between October 14 and December 5th, 2021. These elections were held under different conditions from previous processes, which contributed to renewing confidence in the vote and the electoral route. These included two independent rectors, an unprecedented audit of the automated voting system, and an update to the Electoral Registry; all necessary steps in the route to recover confidence in the vote. Furthermore, important opposition parties and leaders which had been previously prevented from competing, were able to participate in the process. These elections were seen then as a tentative first step towards a broad political agreement on the necessary conditions to hold free and fair elections, with results acceptable to all parties.

Despite these advances, the EOM noted structural deficiencies that must be addressed. Some of the more prominent, include lack of legal certainty, which led to the arbitrary disqualification of candidates and the repetition of elections in the state of Barinas; the handing over of party symbols and electoral ballots to internal minority factions; the widespread use of State resources in the campaig, and the unequal access of candidates to the media and airtime, among others.

The Global Observatory for Communication and Democracy (OGCD, Spanish acronym) has analyzed the level of implementation of the 23 recommendations made by the EU-EOM in 2022, of which seven were marked as priorities. The following is a summary of the more salient points of that analysis, a complete version can be found in Monitor Electoral (1-2023) [2]

The first recommendation is to “strengthen the separation of powers and confidence in the independence of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) with the adoption of a new Judicial Career Act and a reform of the Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice, to align them with the constitutional guarantees that ensure a transparent, apolitical and merit-based selection of judges, avoiding the invasion of the competences of the electoral power[3]“. There is some observable progress in this regard. On January 18, 2022, the National Assembly (AN) approved in a second discussion the reform of the Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice (LOTSJ) that had been sanctioned in 2010.  While the reform of the LOTSJ is overall in line with the recommendations expressed by the EU-EOM, it also enacts some changes which are contrary to the Constitution, such as the extended terms for Supreme Court Justices. Among the positive changes is the inability of the Constitutional Chamber to legislate through its rulings. The reform clarifies that while the Chamber has the power to interpret the Constitution and its rulings are binding, it cannot, through its interpretative mandate, modify the content of laws.

Regrettably, this is the only priority recommendation in which there has been any measurable progress. For instance, the second recommendation: “to conduct a voter education campaign that increases confidence in the integrity and secrecy of electronic voting and shows voters how to vote for different political options in simultaneous elections” has been ignored thus far. No such campaigns have been carried out, nor has the CNE shown the intention to design or implement them.

The possibility of being arbitrarily disqualified from running for public office remains a standing threat, and an instrument used to curtail political dissent. The third EU-EOM recommendation addresses this issue, and exhorts “to remove the prerogative of the Office of the Comptroller General to deprive citizens of their fundamental right to stand for election through an administrative procedure and without timely notification, which has a negative impact on the right to defense“. One of the challenges facing the opposition primaries is uncertainty regarding whether those who are currently banned from participation should be allowed to compete, given that there is no guarantee that they would be able to submit their name for the general election.

In accordance with articles 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, and 233 of the Organic Law on Electoral Processes (LOPRE), the CNE has the power to punish electoral offenses. It also establishes which acts fall within the jurisdiction of the electoral court of the TSJ instead. The EU-EOM recommended to strengthen these powers of the CNE “through the introduction of a system of control and sanctions, ranging from reprimand to progressive penalties, especially as regards the use of state resources in the campaign“. Although article 228 calls for the elaboration of a detailed regulation by means of a special law, to date, there is no known process for reviewing and adjusting the current legislation so that it strengthens and incorporates a system of controls and sanctions by the electoral authority.

The government of Nicolas Maduro has enacted a policy of widespread censorship, consistently suppressed freedom of expression, and cracked down on independent media. In October 2022, the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) denounced the closure of 86 radio stations in that year alone. Furthermore, circulation of print media is minimal, and public access television is government-controlled. In sum, access to information is precarious at best, and heavily monitored. For this reason, the EU-EOM included among its priority recommendations, to “balance state media coverage during election campaigns, in line with the Organic Law on Electoral Processes and international good practices” and to “repeal the Law against Hatred, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance in order to promote freedom of expression and avoid self-censorship”. As evidenced by the aforementioned radio closures, rather than progress towards this recommendation, there is a decline in overall access to information.

There was no progress on the last recommendation either, which is to “increase efforts to inform citizens about their selection as poll workers, in order to increase the presence of trained and accredited poll workers, considering a combination of incentive measures and sanctions“. Although the selection of citizens for the Compulsory Electoral Service (SEO) is carried out during the first quarter of the year scheduled for the conduct of the electoral process, so far this year, no efforts have been made by the electoral administration to train citizens on their obligations and rights in the context of electoral processes.

As for the 16 remaining recommendations, only in one has there been any measure of progress: recommendation (#6), aimed at improving the voter registration system and access to voting for Venezuelans abroad. Although the exact number of Venezuelans voters who reside outside the country is unknown, UNHCR figures and independent analyst projections believe somewhere between three to five million potential people who could vote in the upcoming elections, are currently outside Venezuela. In July 2022, CNE vice-president Enrique Márquez submitted a proposal to the electoral body to facilitate the access to voting for Venezuelans abroad. This action was made public through Marquez’ Twitter account, however, there hasn’t been any official information on its status.

The role of international actors

A UN Panel of experts was also present on the ground for the 2021 regional and local elections. Discussing the report that resulted of this visit could be very relevant in the context of the Security Council, as it would help determine the need to deploy a full UN observation mission. Encouraging this discussion is a concrete action that Member States could take to support the electoral route in Venezuela.  International actors also have a crucial role to play, to ensure that human rights, peace, and democracy are prioritized and guaranteed in the process of democratic re-institutionalization in Venezuela.

On January 24, 2023, as part of the activities of Venezuela’s “Day of Democracy”, which is celebrated on January 23rd, civil society organizations Voto Joven, OGCD, Cepaz and Sinergia read  a statement endorsed by 50 CSO and +40 social actors. This document highlights the will of civil society to continue striving towards building an electoral route to resolve the current crisis. It mentions three priorities, which align significantly with the EU EOM recommendations, as the guiding principles for this route: respect for democratic institutions, the Constitution, and the current makeup of the CNE; improved conditions for voter registration, in Venezuela and abroad; and respect to the rights to elect and be elected.

Strengthening the electoral route is a mean to rebuild confidence in the vote as a tool for change and to encourage political actors to reconnects with the needs of Venezuelans, and actively promote solutions to their most pressing problems. In the next few years, any actors engaging in political negotiations must recognize the opportunity for re-institutionalization that the upcoming elections provide, and aim to achieve the necessary guarantees to ensure a credible process. The EU EOM recommendations offer a roadmap in this regard, as does the report of the UN Panel of experts; both international actors, and civil society, must continue monitoring and demanding progress towards free and fair elections.

[1] Report of the Electoral Observation Mission, 2021. Available at: http://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/ Page 8.

[2] Monitor Electoral is an information product by the OGCD for the Red Electoral Ciudadana.

[3] The final report of the EU Observation Mission is available at: http://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/ – the recommendations are compiled in pages 41-42; refer to the document for the complete list.


Peace for Venezuela

Peace for Venezuela is a campaign that aims to break down the information bias surrounding the Venezuelan crisis within the international community and promote a stronger and more constructive role for the United Nations.