Tag Archives: opposition

Venezuela – Presidential Election to be Held on April 22

Yesterday, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE – Consejo Nacional Electoral), Tibisay Lucena, announced that presidential elections would be held on Sunday April 22. Both representatives of the opposition and the government, who have been meeting in the Dominican Republic to address the political and economic crises engulfing the country, agreed on this date. Soon after consensus on the date was reached however, the talks disintegrated over disagreement about the conditions of the vote itself. The opposition has refused to sign the draft agreement proposed by the government and has accused the ruling party of refusing to allow a free and fair vote in April’s elections.

This follows the announcement of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly last month that a ‘snap’ presidential election would be held in April. President Nicolás Maduro had previously indicated that he would be seeking another six-year term and this week, the ruling socialist party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) officially announced that Maduro would be their candidate. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December and the decision of the Constituent Assembly to hold an election so soon in April appears to be part of a wider government strategy of electoral manipulation to ensure that they remain in power.

Indeed, Nicolás Maduro is the clear favourite to win the election. Registration of the candidates will begin on February 24-26 and campaigning will only be allowed for three weeks between April 2 and April 19. The most well-known opposition figures, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López are unable to stand in the election; Capriles is barred from office and López is currently under house arrest. Notwithstanding the very short notice and opaque electoral rules, the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), is also just in poor shape to contest an election. Henrique Capriles announced before Christmas that he was leaving the MUD coalition in response to the decision of four MUD governors to swear allegiance to the Constituent Assembly following gubernatorial elections last October, which was suggestive of a larger schism among the opposition.

On top of all this, it is not even yet clear if the opposition will be able to take part in the election at all. 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. The reason that this is significant is because a broad swathe of the opposition, following the October gubernatorial elections, agreed to boycott December’s municipal elections. By refusing to take part in the municipal elections, the bulk of the opposition may have provided the Constituent Assembly and the CNE with an excuse to bar them from April’s presidential elections.

Only one realistic opposition candidate has emerged: Henry Ramos Allup, who at 74, is the former leader of the National Assembly. His party, Acción Democrática, is still eligible to run in the election although he has not yet indicated whether he will take part or not.

Regardless, given the Maduro regime’s willingness to follow the electoral authoritarian playbook, it seems likely that even if the opposition can unite behind one, eligible candidate, it will be nigh on impossible to unseat Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela – Snap Presidential Elections for April Announced

On Tuesday of this week, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly announced that a ‘snap’ presidential election would be held this April and shortly after this announcement, President Nicolás Maduro confirmed at a public rally that he would be seeking another six-year term. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December and the decision of the Constituent Assembly to bring the election forward at such short notice appears to be part of a wider government strategy of electoral manipulation to ensure that they remain in power. The actual date of the election in April has yet to be set.

The announcement has been condemned by both the US State Department in Washington and 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.

In a highly controversial move, President Maduro created the constituent assembly by decree in July, primarily for two main reasons; firstly, to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state, and secondly, to sideline the opposition dominated Congress that has proven such a thorn in Maduro’s side. In the last legislative elections in December 2015, the government lost their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance. Although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political machinations managed to prevent the super-majority taking their seats, by barring three opposition legislators due to alleged election irregularities.

Since then, Venezuela has been mired in a deep and protracted political and economic crisis. In order to provide some respite from this crisis, the Venezuelan government and members of the opposition have spent the last three months 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, CNE (Consejo Nacional Electoral). Announcing a presidential election at such short notice before any agreement has been reached however, suggests that the government is abandoning this process.

This does not augur well for the fairness and competitiveness of the scheduled presidential elections. We have written before on this blog, particularly with reference to Venezuela, about electoral or competitive authoritarianism, a coin termed by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way in a seminal paper back in 2002. These are regimes that they describe as a ‘diminished form of authoritarianism’ and involve the reform of political institutions to centralize power and distort the electoral arena in order to stack the deck in favor of the incumbent. Democracy remains, particularly the façade of procedural democracy, but it is of a much-weakened variety.

This announcement seems to be straight out of the competitive authoritarian handbook and the election in April will most likely follow the script of recent gubernatorial elections from October of last year, where the governing coalition of Nicolás Maduro eventually won 18 states of the 23, with the opposition coalition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática), taking the remaining five. These gubernatorial elections had long been subject to political manipulation. The CNE had prevaricated about when, and indeed if, these elections would be held. Initially slated to be held in December 2016, they were pushed back until mid-2017. In May 2017, the elections were scheduled for December 2017, before the electoral council announced a date in October.  During the elections themselves, numerous problems arose. For example, at the last minute, 273 voting centres were relocated, largely from areas where the MUD is strong, for security reasons, and some ballots continued to carry the names of defeated primary candidates.

The big question of course is whether Maduro can win this snap election, even with the concomitant manipulation of the process. In the midst of the political and economic turmoil, Maduro’s approval rating has fallen to about 30 per cent. The gubernatorial elections however, and the decision of the newly elected opposition governors to wear allegiance to the Constituent Assembly, has caused a rupture and in-fighting within the opposition coalition. For Maduro, this might explain the decision to hold the elections so soon. Carpe diem.


Georgia – New Old Debate on the Federal Model of Governance

According to the constitution, Georgia is a unitary state. Due to the current territorial-administrative arrangements and political situation, the final state-territorial model is supposed to be rearranged after the restoration of effective control on the entire territory of the country (within internationally recognized borders of Georgia).

In the early 1990s the re-establishment of Georgia’s independence was accompanied by internal political turbulence and two secessionist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, former Soviet Autonomous Republics/Oblasts. Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue de facto statehood for more than two decades now and strengthen economic-military ties with Russia, demonstrating no intention to reintegrate with Georgia.

Since the mid 90ies, with Eduard Shevardnadze (1997-2003) in power, there have been several attempts to offer Abkhazia federal model of governance and wide autonomy, that later transformed into a proposal on asymmetric federalism; and finally, in 2007, President Saakashvili’s (2004-2013) the New Peace Initiative, among others included the post of vice-president and the veto power on the issues concerning Abkhazia.

Surprisingly so, the current government of Georgia, Coalition Georgian Dream (in power since October, 2012 – holding majority in the parliament) has not presented its vision on the restoration of the territorial integrity and moreover, renamed the former Ministry of Reintegration into a Ministry of Reconciliation and Civic Equality. The new ministry has followed the old strategy of the former Government – Engagement through Cooperation approved in 2010.

In this light, the statement of Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, Paata Zakareishvili that Georgia is ready to discuss the model of federal governance where Abkhazia will be granted special status was understood as a demonstration of the new vision of Georgian Dream government towards the breakaway regions.

“Under the Constitution of Georgia, we would like to offer our people on the occupied territories protected political and civil rights. Georgia is ready to discuss federal arrangement of the country. We have certain ideas on granting Abkhazia a special status. This issue has been discussed with our political opponents too. We are certainly ready to demonstrate more openness in this regards”, – said Mr. Zakareishvili on November 4, 2015 and stressed on the importance of taking European standards and approaches with regards to the issue.

Minister received harsh criticism from the both political spectrum and the society and was forced to  make clarifications on his previous statement by calling it a personal opinion and nothing related to the stance of the Coalition Georgian Dream with regards to the settlement of the conflict in Abkhazia. Furthermore, he added that currently federal model of governance is not discussed inside the government and more notably, the issue is not on the political agenda at all.

In his attempt to clarify on the previous statement, minister said that, unfortunately, Georgian society is not ready for such discussions and even the PM’s prominent statement on the self-determination of Abkhaz was ignored by the society.

“In 2004, as a result of the initiative of me and my friends an interesting document on the federalisation of Georgia was published. It is my personal opinion as a conflicts specialist, that the most effective way of conflicts settlement in Georgia is a federative model of governance – based on asymmetric regionalism, where the status of different regions will vary – Abkhaz must possess a special status. If anyone has a better idea, I would only welcome to see that proposal, since we have not seen any progress on this issue even after 10 years.

During the latest interview, Paata Zakareishvili confirmed his scepticism on the future of conflict settlement. “It [federal model of governance] will not be introduced during my ministry term. Our current objective is human rights in conflict zone and relations with Russia. Nowadays, the government’s task is not to define the status of Abkhazia but its primary objective is not to make mistakes that will lead to new provocations from Russia. However, this will not last forever, Georgia will develop peacefully, will become a European state and then, it will face the objective of defining status of Abkhazia. The society must be ready and determined about the territorial arrangements of the country. The only experience of common statehood that we share with Abkhazia is the Soviet Union. I don’t know about the times of David the Builder (king of Georgia) but we have no other experience of common statehood. Abkhazia was never the part of independent Georgia. Our generation has no memory of this, thus it did not happen in current European reality. That’s why the society must discuss how we are going to reintegrate Abkhazia into the Georgian state.” – Minister’s controversial opinion was condemned by all the wings of the political spectrum.

As in many other instances, the statement on the federal model of governance and the special status of Abkhazia has not geared wide public discussions but yet another internal feud in Georgia. Likewise, proposals on the federal model have been repeatedly rejected by the other side.  Unlike the Minister Zakareishvili, the government has not revealed its vision on the future of the conflict settlement yet and the intention of Georgian Dream on the restoration of territorial integrity of the country remains uncertain.

Guinea – Opposition demonstrations to begin anew as political dialogue falters

Following failure to achieve consensus on action points from the July 1st – 9 political dialogue between ruling and opposition parties, Guinean opposition parties have declared their intent to resume street demonstrations. Opposition parties claim that the government has misrepresented the recommendations agreed upon by the two parties, aimed at paving the way for a peaceful presidential poll in 2015. The opposition thus intends to organize a political manifestation in Conakry on August 4th. During demonstrations in 2011-2013, more than 60 opposition activists were killed in protests over the modalities for organizing legislative elections.

Opposition grievances center on delays in the organization of local elections and the lack of progress on other provisions of a political agreement signed on July 3, 2013 between opposition and majority parties. According to that agreement, local polls should have taken place by the end of the first quarter of 2014. In March 2014, however, the election commission postponed the elections indefinitely citing a lack of funds. Mistrust between the government and opposition parties has since festered. The 54 seats held by opposition parties in the 114-seat National Assembly remained empty for three weeks, during the most recent legislative session, inhibiting the passage of laws requiring a two thirds majority to be adopted. This included the adoption of rules of procedure to govern the legislature’s own work.

In late June, the Minister of Territorial Administration Alhassane Condé made overtures to the opposition to resume dialogue stalled since the September 2013 legislative elections. Dialogue effectively resumed on July 1st and concluded with apparent success and the opposition resuming its seats in the legislature. Discussions centered on five agenda points:

  • The choice of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry through open tender;
  • The organization of local elections;
  • The political neutrality of the public service;
  • The prosecution of actors responsible for violence related to last year’s legislative elections and the compensation for victims of that violence; and
  • The establishment of follow-up and monitoring committees to facilitate implementation and oversight of agreed-upon action points.

Problems arose when the Minister of Territorial Administration forwarded a synthesis of the decisions made during the dialogue sessions for joint signature, on July 11. Opposition parties found that certain details had been glossed over, omitted or misrepresented. For example, the opposition complains that the synthesis prepared by the government omits the following points on which consensus was reached: that the current operator of the voter registry, Waymark/Sabary, cannot participate in the open tender for a new operator; that political parties should be associated with the elaboration of an election calendar for the local polls; and that disciplinary action will be taken against public servants found to violate the principle of neutrality in public service.

Guinea is clearly far from achieving a rebuilding of mutual trust after the highly contentious 2010 presidential poll. The opposition is particularly concerned that the open tender for the selection of a new operator for the revision of the voter registry appears to be moving ahead, while the follow-up and monitoring committees with representation of both opposition and ruling parties have not yet been seated. The Secretary General of the ruling party, Saloum Cisse, calls the opposition’s intent to resume demonstrations an unnecessary provocation, as the ‘door for dialogue is wide open.’ Hopefully, ruling and opposition parties will succeed in achieving a common understanding of the outcome of the dialogue earlier this month to avoid tensions escalating further and a resumption of violence.