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Venezuela elections: resurgent chavismo and “unrecognised” democracy

After weeks of imperialist threats and opposition violence, the elections for the Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Venezuela took place on July 30th. The result was a massive turnout of over 8 million voters, around 41% of the electorate, which gave chavismo a much-needed shot in the arm. The western media reacted by trying to dispute the number and sticking even closer to the narrative being pushed by the opposition and the US State Department. With the opposition scrambling and US authorities bringing more sanctions and threats, it is now chavismo that has the political initiative. The Constituent Assembly will not solve everything by itself, but it is a tremendous opportunity to push the Bolivarian Revolution forward.

Part 1 - A tale of two elections

On July 16th the Venezuelan opposition held a “consultation” in which it called on its supporters to symbolically reject the Constituent Assembly, appeal for military coup and support a so-called “national unity” government. Here is how Associated Press reported on the turnout:

The opposition said 7.6 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum, which the government labelled an internal party poll with no relevance for the country.

There is no mention of the fact that people were free to vote more than once, that no electoral roll was used and that no audit was possible because everything was burned at the end of the day. Apart from this, in a recent article we explored other reasons why this total was very doubtful, based on simple estimations given the number of voting booths available. A phone conversation between opposition leaders in Aragua state also revealed how the numbers were being cooked.

In contrast, Sunday’s elections had the full weight of the electoral authorities behind them, over 12.000 voting centres and 24.000 voting booths, and the approval of international monitors. The main obstacle was the opposition’s violence, and so additional voting centres, such as the Caracas Poliedro pavilion, were set up for people who were not able to vote in their own neighbourhoods. Pictures showed voting queues forming since early morning and the voting deadline was extended so everyone could vote.

It is also worth reminding how the Venezuelan voting system is as close to foolproof as it gets. Voters access voting machines using their fingerprints, exercise their vote electronically, and then a paper ballot is printed. The voter checks that it matches the vote he/she just made and places this paper ballot in a box. Once the voting is done, a random audit of voting centres is made to ensure that the paper ballot tally matches the electronic tally to a margin of 0.1%. In particular, a big discrepancy between the voting totals, paper and electronic, would stand out immediately. And yet, this is how Associated Press reported Sunday’s turnout:

National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.

Based on what, exactly? If they have evidence they should present it. Some pictures of empty voting centres in middle-class neighbourhoods, which for all we know could have been taken the day before, do not prove anything. Surely, among the thousands of electoral commission workers, one of them would report that there were 3 times more electronic votes than paper ballots in his centre. When Donald Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton the media checked and disproved the wild claim. But apparently these standards, or any standards for that matter, do not apply to the Venezuelan opposition.

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