Venezuela vote taken right out of the ‘sham election’ playbook

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Iraq, Oct. 16, 2002: 100 percent of registered voters went to the polls (nobody in the whole country was sick that day) and every single one of the country’s 11,445,638 voters in a referendum voted “yes” to extend Saddam Hussein’s hold on power (including all the Shia and Kurds who hated him and all the people who famously tore down his statue six months later). 

North Korea, March 8, 2009: 99.8 percent of all registered voters turned out for a Supreme People’s Assembly election (amazing how almost nobody gets sick or travels on election day). The entire voting public — 100 percent — voted for candidates of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, dominated by the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea for almost 70 years.

{mosads}If you believe those “official” numbers or that any of those elections were fair, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you; and if you believe the results reported by the Venezuelan government in Sunday’s constituent assembly vote, I’ll sell you that same bridge a second time.

 

The latest vote in Venezuela should now be added to the long list of sham “elections” held by authoritarian regimes that have abandoned or never had any semblance of true democracy. The government of Nicolas Maduro claims more than 8 million people voted to support an unconstitutional constituent assembly that’s intended to formalize a one-party communist state, extending and strengthening the power of the unpopular Maduro.

If that many Venezuelans voted to support Maduro, it would have been a tremendous victory. Unfortunately for the Venezuelan president, the results are patently absurd. Maduro was elected in 2013 with 500,000 fewer votes. Two years later, his socialist party lost 2 million of those voters, only mustering 5.6 million in an overwhelming defeat in parliamentary elections.

Sure, it’s conceivable (although not likely) for a party to reverse its fortunes and garner 40 percent more votes in a subsequent election. But, in the 19 months since then, the International Monetary Fund has declared Venezuela’s economy the world’s worst. It is continuing its slide into a deeper depression, with the highest inflation in the world and a currency with evaporating value.

Most Venezuelans go hungry daily, many die of curable illnesses because basic medicines are unavailable, and everyone feels unsafe because of an extremely high violent crime rate. Venezuela has also become a “narcostate,” with cabinet members indicted for drug trafficking, nephews of the First Lady convicted of drug running to the U.S. and other top officials known as drug kingpins.

Topping it off, the government has grown increasingly authoritarian, rejecting the will of the people by emasculating the congress they elected, intensely repressing protests, killing scores of young people, injuring thousands and arresting thousands more, hundreds of whom remain behind bars as political prisoners. 

Under those dire circumstances, it defies belief that the government would have increased its popularity. In fact, polls have shown the opposite, indicating more than 80 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of the job Maduro is doing. A credible opposition plebiscite on July 16 garnered more than 7.5 million votes that rejected the constituent assembly.

Another poll showed 85 percent of Venezuelans were against the assembly, including powerful loyalists of Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor and patron. We’ll never know the extent of the fraud because internationally-recognized election observers were not allowed into the country to monitor the voting, and reporters were kept at a distance from polling sites. However, the consensus among analysts and reporters pointed to a very low turnout, well less than half of those claimed by the government.

Most significant in discerning what happened in the constituent assembly vote are some simple questions: If the government were popular enough to get 8 million votes for its constituent power grab, why did it block the election to recall Maduro last year? If it has the support it claims, why has it postponed local elections? Moreover, why not follow the current constitution, long described as the crowning achievement of Hugo Chavez, and submit the proposal of a constituent assembly to a true national referendum, instead of Sunday’s rigged, undemocratic vote? 

The only obvious answer is that Maduro and his henchmen clearly understand that they have squandered what popular support they once had and that winning a legitimate election is impossible. They desperately need the constituent assembly because it is their saving grace, an institution that will spare them from answering to democratic forces and avoid being kicked out of office.

Without firmer, multilateral action from hemispheric leaders and international organizations, including the United Nations and the Organization of American States, the constituent assembly will quickly become all-powerful. It will then likely consolidate Maduro as the Venezuelan strongman for the foreseeable future, enslave the country’s 32 million people, much as the Kims, Husseins, Castros and Assads have enslaved theirs.

Antonio Mora is a former news anchor for “Good Morning America,” former host of Al Jazeera America’s primetime international news hour. He is both a Venezuelan and American lawyer who appears regularly on television as a Venezuelan-affairs analyst.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

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