Venezuelan authorities strengthen democracy in unusual way
December 21, 2017
The threat issued by Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro to bar the principal opposition political parties from participating in next year’s presidential elections was substantiated on 20 December. The constituent assembly approved a law stipulating that any political party which fails to participate in any electoral process will have to go through the entire party registration process again. This means collecting the requisite number of signatures and submitting them to the national electoral council (CNE) for approval.
President Maduro raised the possibility of punishing parties that refuse to participate in elections following the municipal elections on 10 December. These were boycotted by the largest three parties in the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) coalition: Primero Justicia, Acción Democrática, and Voluntad Popular. The president of the constituent assembly, Delcy Rodríguez, said that the new law was designed “to strengthen the system of political parties upholding Venezuelan democracy”. Rodríguez added: “boycotts will not be permitted…[the law] encourages and rewards political participation”.
In theory, while chastening, the registration process should not be too onerous for the three political parties. But in practice it could be an insurmountable challenge. The CNE demonstrated with the opposition’s attempt to force a recall referendum on Maduro that it is capable of spinning out the process for verifying signatures amid a complex skein of rules and regulations that could result in the parties being unable to register in time to participate in the presidential elections.
The main reason the three parties refused to participate in the municipal elections in the first place was because it argued that the CNE, with four of its five members loyal to the government, was incapable of organising free and fair elections. The restructuring of the CNE ahead of next year’s presidential elections is one of the opposition’s key demands in the national dialogue process it is holding with the government in the Dominican Republic. The latest law undermines the national dialogue, the second round of which took place on 15 December. Neither the government nor the opposition let on much about the closed-door talks, but Dominican President Danilo Medina said a third round would be held on 11 and 12 January.
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