Is an electoral reform necessary in Venezuela?

Jesús Castellanos Vásquez. Licenciado en Ciencias Políticas y Administrativas (UCV). Especialista en Comunicación Organizacional (UCAB) y Magister en Gestión y Políticas Públicas (U. de Chile). Candidato a Doctor en Ciencias, mención Ciencias Políticas (UCV). Profesor de la Especialización de Procesos y Sistemas Electorales de la UCV.


Many of the readers of the above title will probably recommend a substantial change in the rules of the game for Venezuela’s electoral system.  They assume, in line with new conceptual schemes (Freidenberg y Dosek 2015; Romero 2015; Tuesta Soldevilla 2015; Jacobs y Leyenaar 2011), that those reforms should go beyond legal changes at the heart of the electoral system, that is, districts, candidacies, voting and formulas, to name only the most well-known ones.  This generates many questions:  What type of reforms should be implemented?  By whom?  What legal bases should be changed?  When should these reforms take place?  What areas should be reformed?  And even more complex of a question, is it enough to just carry out a reform?

We maintain that the transgressions against transparency and justice in the Venezuelan electoral processes exceed the regulations therein.  Violations to the integrity of the electoral process have existed for over a decade and become more serious and evident by the day.  These violations have arisen not only due to weaknesses in the regulatory framework but also, and perhaps even more important, due to the lack of observation and lack of compliance with current laws.  Notwithstanding, it is imperative to reform some areas with urgency, especially in light or restoring democratic institutions.  Below is our proposal to address this situation, and we caution our readers that there are probably many different interpretations of it.

What type of reforms should be implemented?  By whom? 

Although electoral reforms tend to be directly associated with changes to existing laws, they are not limited to only that.  In addition to the changes implemented by the National Assembly, the National Electoral Council (CNE by its initials in Spanish) can also implement changes regarding the sublegal regulations under its purview, and even decisions by other government entities such as the Supreme Court of Justice.

What laws should be reformed?

It is certain that not only laws governing elections and the Organic Law on Electoral Processes (LOPRE) (2009) should be reformed, but also the following:  The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999), the Organic Law of the Electoral Power (LOPE) (2002), the Law on Political Parties, Public Meetings and Protests (1964) and the General Regulation of the Organic Law on Electoral Processes (2013), among others

When should these reforms take place?

Although the ideal answer should be immediately, we acknowledge that timelines may differ.  Some reforms, such as reforms to Organic Laws and Ordinary Laws or to the General Regulation of the LOPRE, may be implemented quickly through normal amendment mechanisms if there is enough political and institutional will.  Conversely, reforming the Constitution requires more time as it involves popular referenda for amendments, general reforms or installing a new Constitutional Assembly (not the current one, which was elected unconstitutionally and in a non-democratic way on 30 July 2017).  One thing is clear, there are several areas that must be reformed so as to have trustworthy, fair and transparent elections henceforth.

What areas should be reformed?

Before the 2018 presidential elections

The National Constitutional Assembly called a presidential election to be held no later than 30 April.  After that first call, the CNE set the election for 22 April, but the event was rescheduled for 20 May and elections for regional legislators and municipal councils were added.  As of the date this article was published, more changes were being proposed.  This makes it evident that the current conditions make it impossible to guarantee the reliability of this event.

With the goal of reaching minimum parameters, while staying within Constitutional boundaries, concerning the ban on modifying the electoral laws six months before the process, we believe it is vital, on the one hand, to correct the CNE’s slanted and visibly partisan behavior of the—the best course of action would be to designate its leadership pursuant to law—and, on the other hand, implement as soon as possible the following actions:  1) eliminate the requirement that Venezuelans living overseas have legal residence to be able to register and vote, as defined in LOPRE and its regulations, and impose penalties to those who obstruct voting overseas; 2)  set the rules for the  call for elections with a set period of time prior to the election; 3) add to the legal framework international observers that replace international observers to accompany elections, as well as domestic observers, and give both groups of observers a greater weight in the election monitoring process; 4) enact more regulations concerning the use of institutions, resources and/or government officials in electoral campaigns, including television advertisement in State-owned media outlets; 5) enact more regulations regarding electoral campaigns; 6) eliminate the legal concept of administrative suspension in the Law of the Republic’s Comptroller General and the National Tax Control System (2010); 7) update the registration and renewal processes for political parties in the Law on Political Parties, Public Meetings and Protests (1964); and 8) set a requirement to locate voting centers in schools.

And with a bit more time…

It is essential to enact a law of public financing for electoral campaigns that meets the requirements of the May 2008 Ruling No. 780 imposed by the Constitutional Committee of the Supreme Court of Justice.  There are other topics in the Carta Magna that are more difficult to change but should also be reviewed, for example the elimination of military votes for positions elected through popular vote and lifetime reelection terms, both of which are detrimental in any type of republican dynamic, as well as the unification of civil registries, national identity card registries and electoral registries belonging to the CNE, the immediate implementation of a mechanism to designate the entity that will govern the Electoral Power when the necessary quorum cannot be achieved (revising the legislative omission).

Finally, is it enough to just reform?

Undoubtedly, the answer is no, although we believe that reforms are essential and they are the first step in the right directly toward restoring Venezuela’s democratic order. We hope these words contribute to such a challenging task.

Spanish Version