Electoral Irregularities under Chavismo: A Tally
This is a draft document and part of an ongoing project on electoral irregularities in Venezuela. Please help improve this document by reporting any errors and omissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just days ahead of the first post-Chávez election since 1998, Venezuela’s opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, has made electoral irregularities a major issue in his campaign. Claiming that Venezuela’s leading electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE), is nothing but an appendage of the government, Capriles said that his campaign has filed more than 100 complaints of electoral irregularities.
This is not the first time that elections in Venezuela are marred with accusations of irregularities. In the October 2012 elections, when Capriles ran against Hugo Chávez and lost by an 11-point margin, the opposition made many accusations of irregularities. However, on election night, Capriles accepted defeat immediately—to the consternation of many who wanted him to cry foul.
But Capriles is taking a more intolerant stand this time. “I’m not the same person I was on October 7. I tolerated a lot of abuse,” Capriles recently said, referring to his quick concession in October. “[This time,] I’m going to defend all of Venezuela’s votes,” he vowed.
Nobody knows for sure whether the Venezuelan opposition will accept the April 14 results as gracefully as it did in October. But regardless of what happens on election night, Capriles has highlighted a key problem in Venezuela’s electoral system: the incidence of irregularities. This deserves a closer look.
Elections, Irregularites and Partial Reform in Chávez’s Venezuela
The Chavista period (1999-present) in Venezuela is often praised for its commitment to elections. The April 14 election will be Venezuela’s 17th election in less than 15 years, which is an impressive record in terms of frequency.
However, Venezuela’s frequent elections are also characterized by two less praise-worthy features: irregularities and partial reforms.
Almost every electoral process since the beginning of the Chavista period has featured major irregularities or biases in favor of the incumbent party. These irregularities consist of practices that depart from either the spirit or the letter of Venezuelan law or from international standards for conducting “free and fair” elections.
The Venezuelan opposition, the press, non-governmental organizations, and international watchdogs have discovered irregularities in almost every electoral process; the government has almost never made such discoveries. It should be noted that most irregularities occur prior to, rather than during, Election Day.
The discovery of electoral irregularities then prompts the government to reform the electoral system—but these reforms are typically partial. The government addresses some of the irregularities but not all of them, and often introduces new irregularities in subsequent elections. This pattern of irregularities, followed by partial reforms, is a hallmark of Venezuela’s electoral processes (Corrales and Penfold 2011).
Below is a list of the irregularities and pro-government biases that have emerged in Venezuelan elections since 1999. While this list does not report some of the important reforms and changes that the government has made, it does reveal new irregularities in nearly every election.
In observing the future of democracy in a post-Chávez Venezuela, it will be vital to observe whether this pattern of electoral irregularities and partial reform will be changed by whichever new government comes next.
To read an informal summary of general election observations standards, click here.
Note: In the table below, each irregularity is coded according to whether it violated:
a) the law (L)
b) the spirit of the law (SL)
c) an international standard (IS + the number of the corresponding international standard listed here).
Orange entries below are expandable. Please click on the entry to expand.
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Author's Note: I am grateful to Christopher Sabatini, Juan Cristóbal Nagel, David Myers, Francisco Monaldi, Miriam Kornblith, Michael Penfold, Carlos Romero and Manuel Hidalgo for their comments, and to Alejandro Sucre and Federico Sucre for their research assistance.