On Sunday May 20th, President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected for a second six-year term in Venezuela. According to the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE – National Electoral Council), Maduro received 67.84 per cent of the vote, a significant lead over the next nearest candidate, Henri Falcón, with 20.93 per cent. The evangelical Javier Bertucci received 10.82 per cent with Reinaldo Quijada, the fourth and final candidate, attracting just 0.39 per cent of the electorate. The CNE reported a turnout of just 46.07 per cent well down from the almost 80 per cent turnout in the last two presidential elections.
Amid a devastating economic crisis, generalized food shortages, widespread protests, a partial opposition boycott and the increasing authoritarianism of the Maduro government, it is no surprise that this electoral result has been mired in controversy. Nearly four months ago, in order to provide some respite from the escalating political, social and economic crisis, the Venezuelan government and representatives of the opposition began meeting in the Dominican Republic to thrash out a set of electoral procedures that would be acceptable to both sides, including reform of the National Electoral Council. In the midst of these talks, the Council announced a presidential election for the end of April, before changing the date to May. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December, but nonetheless, the opposition agreed to this ‘snap election’, but soon after consensus on the date was reached, the talks disintegrated over disagreement about the conditions of the vote itself.
This left the opposition with very little time to mobilize and to co-ordinate a campaign to seriously challenge Maduro. The most well-known opposition figures, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López were unable to stand in the election; Capriles was barred from office and López was under house arrest. In December, the Constituent Assembly adopted a decree that stated that political parties that wish to take part in elections in Venezuela must have been active in prior elections. A broad swathe of the opposition, following the October gubernatorial elections, agreed to boycott December’s municipal elections and by refusing to take part in the municipal elections, the main parties provided the CNE with an excuse to bar them from presidential elections.
In addition, the opposition was already weak and fragmented. Henrique Capriles announced before Christmas that he was leaving the MUD coalition and persistent government repression of opposition groups and leaders has further weakened the opposition alliance. Henri Falcón defied a larger call to boycott the entire electoral process further exacerbating schisms among opposition leaders.
And Falcón has refused to recognise the result, given the intimidation, electoral fraud and vote buying, which he alleges were widespread throughout the electoral process. The Lima group, comprising the foreign ministers and representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia, have also issued a statement refuting the validity of the final result.
Even the turnout statistics were subject to controversy. Although the CNE reported a turnout of just over 46 per cent, significantly lower than the last presidential elections, opposition groups have claimed that this is still a highly inflated figure, in an effort to lend further legitimacy to Maduro’s weak mandate. They put the actual turnout at closer to 30 per cent.
Clearly, by no means do these elections draw a line under Venezuela’s political (and economic) woes. If anything, they only serve to set the scene for further turbulence.