It’s no secret that Venezuela is a cosmetic democracy in which President Nicolás Maduro resorts to all kinds of dirty tricks to retain absolute powers, but his latest move — designing ballot sheets designed to confuse opposition voters — would be almost amusing if it weren’t so devious.
Earlier this week, Venezuela’s government-controlled National Electoral Commission released the ballot sheets for the crucial Dec. 6 legislative elections, which place the opposition’s “Unidad” (Unity) coalition, best known by its MUD acronym, next to two other non-related parties that — surprise, surprise — are also named “Unidad.”
“It’s another government trick,” MUD secretary general Jesus “Chúo” Torrealba told me in a telephone interview. “The government has invented and financed micro-parties that are posing as opposition parties and use the same name, but in reality are government satellite parties created to confuse voters.”
Indeed, the ballot sheet’s three “Unidad” boxes are next to each other. While the first “Unidad” box at the bottom left of the ballot sheet corresponds to the real MUD opposition coalition, the other two are respectively named “Min-Unidad” and “UnidadDR” and look very similar.
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But that’s only the latest of the Maduro regime’s ploys to rig the election process, and perhaps even induce a “self-coup” to suspend the elections, opposition leaders say. Consider these seven other government moves in recent weeks:
▪ The Maduro regime has declared a “state of exception” in 10 towns of Táchira state along the Colombian border, amid an escalating diplomatic conflict with Colombia. The diplomatic spat began after Maduro closed the border and deported thousands of Colombians living on the Venezuelan side of the frontier, claiming that a Colombian criminal group had attacked Venezuelan soldiers.
Much like in a separate Venezuelan spat with Guyana, many oppositionists suspect that Maduro is creating border conflicts as an excuse to either cancel the December elections, or declare a wider “state of exception” to prevent opposition meetings in large parts of the country.
▪ At least 10 opposition leaders, including prominent former congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, who was stripped of her congressional seat by government-controlled electoral authorities, have been banned from running for congressional seats in the Dec. 6 elections under dubious legal charges.
▪ One of Venezuela’s most charismatic opposition leaders, Leopoldo López, has been held in a high-security jail for the past 18 months under flimsy government charges that he “instigated” violent opposition protests on Feb. 12, 2014. López is one of at least 40 high-profile political prisoners in Venezuela who have been jailed in an effort to silence them, human rights groups say.
▪ Maduro has said he will not accept international electoral observers from the 34-country Organization of American States, as the Venezuelan opposition is requesting. Instead, the Maduro regime has said it will only allow foreign “electoral escorts” from the Union of South American countries, UNASUR, an organization that has been supportive of the Venezuelan government.
▪ As in previous elections, Maduro is virtually controlling television time with mandatory broadcasts of presidential speeches and an avalanche of state-paid pro-government ads. The regime, which in recent years took over RCTV and other electronic media, is now trying to close the independent daily El Nacional through a tax investigation, El Nacional editor Miguel Henrique Otero said Wednesday, denouncing the move.
▪ Government-controlled electoral authorities have, as in previous elections, designed electoral districts so as to give pro-government states greater representation than opposition states. In the 2010 legislative elections, official results showed that the government PSUV party virtually tied with the MUD coalition, but the PSUV won 96 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the opposition won only 65 seats.
▪ Maduro is intimidating voters by virtually threatening a civil war if the opposition wins in December. On June 22, Maduro said that there would be “chaos,” and that “I will be the first one to take to the streets if the right [wing] were to take the National Assembly.”
My opinion: The Maduro government is becoming desperate, and with a 180 percent annual inflation rate and the economy expected to collapse by nearly 7 percent this year, is resorting to increasingly dirtier schemes to steal the election.
There is no excuse for Latin American countries not to demand that Venezuela allow OAS observers to make the election results credible. In light of Maduro’s latest dirty tricks, they should do so now, and say that they would not accept a government victory otherwise.