Venezuelans go to the polls on 7 October to elect their president. The main choice is between the incumbent Hugo Chavez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, a right-wing state governor with strong ties to the country’s elite.
Yet with more than a month to go, sections of Venezuela’s right wing opposition coalition seem to have made up their mind about the outcome. With substantial poll leads for Hugo Chávez they appear to be preparing to decry the official results as a fraud.
Ricardo Hausmann, a key Capriles economic adviser, recently said his campaign will announce their own results to the world before the official announcement is made by Venezuela’s independent National Electoral Council (CNE), the equivalent of Britain’s Electoral Commission. Their approach seems to be that unless the results go their way, the CNE’s official results will be rejected by the opposition.
As Eleazar Diza Rangel, editor of Venezuela’s main national newspaper Ultimas Noticias – broadly sympathetic to the anti-Chávez opposition – recently explained the purpose of attempts “to claim fraud at the coming presidential elections of 7 October [would be] in order not to recognise the people’s will”.
Whatever views are held of the Chávez government, its democratic mandate is without doubt. There is certainly no evidence from previous elections of fraud.
This will be Venezuela’s 15th election since Chavez became President in 1999. All have been declared free and fair including by international bodies such as the EU and Organisation of American State. Just last month, Jennifer McCoy, director at the Carter Center, described Venezuela’s electronic voting system as one of the most reliable in the world. At the coming elections, the Union of South American Nations will amongst the 200 international observers.
Any doubt about the impartiality of the CNE in organising free elections is surely swept aside by the fact that earlier this year Venezuela’s main right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, organised for it to conduct the right’s Presidential primaries. The MUD Executive Secretary described the CNE’s role in this selection as “an excellent indication of the democratic institutions in the country“. It is not serious for the right-wing coalition to endorse the CNE as a legitimate electoral authority in February and denounce it in October.
The truth is that any opposition attempt to cry fraud is really about covering up its own political failings. Polls carried out by the major companies indicate a clear win for Hugo Chávez, with leads of between 15-27% in each of the 8 major polls carried out in July. August’s polls give similar results.
Rejecting the results in the face of a Hugo Chavez victory would be totally consistent with the Venezuelan right-wing’s record of resorting to undemocratic means. Most well known is the short-lived coup against the democratically-elected Chavez government in 2002 which abolished democracy altogether until it was overturned by popular demonstrations. Soon after in 2003, they unleashed a 64-day oil industry lock-out that saw GDP collapse by a third with the declared aim of ousting President Chavez. They then claimed fraud at the 2004 recall referendum to decide if Hugo Chávez would continue as President, which he won 58% to 42%. The opposition promised to provide the evidence but eight years on they have yet to produce it. And faced with certain defeat, they decided to boycott the 2005 parliamentary elections to distract from their unpopularity, a move opposed by the Organisation of American States.
Since then opposition has sought to use the democratic process to remove Hugo Chavez. It has not rejected the CNE results that saw its presidential candidate Henry Caprioles Radonski elected as a state governor, Chávez’s constitutional changes defeated in a referendum or the right-wing win dozens of governors, mayors and MPs.
But faced with Hugo Chávez being elected for another six years, they now seem set to be resorting to old habits.
Any such manoeuvres to undermine the real outcome need to be widely condemned. It is the right of the Venezuelan people to freely determine who their next president is. Their will must be upheld and respected.