Next Sunday, December 4, is election day for Venezuelan National Assembly deputies. The electoral race had been taking place without much ado from voters, and according polls projected abstention was to be around 70%. It was going to be an easy victory for President Chávez’ twin parties.
However, last week the opposition parties demonstrated to international observers that the thumbprint machines-to be used for screening citizens’ identity before they be allowed to vote- were programmed to log the choice of each one of the voters in a given sequence. Such a log may allow the government to verify whether or not a person voted for Chávez’s candidates, and use such information each time a citizen would need to conduct any business with the national administration, as has been happening with the infamous Tascón’s List. Given that precedent, the opposition has asked the National Electoral Council (CNE – Spanish acronym) to suspend the use of thumbprint machines, otherwise opposition candidates would retire from the elections.
The CNE agreed to suspend the use of the thumbprint machines. Unexpectedly, several opposition parties decided to withdraw from the elections. AD, COPEI, Venezuela Project, and several other small parties announced that they are not longer running for seats in the National Assembly because the electoral process is obviously tainted, and there is not prospect of fairness. MAS announced that they will keep running, while Justice First (the main opposition party) and Causa R have not made a public statement yet.
Reacting to these events, the Venezuelan blogosphere turned its attention to the elections, which were being overlooked until now. Many opposition bloggers call the for unanimous withdrawal of opposition candidates, while Chavista bloggers claim that the withdrawal is just a “children's tantrum” from candidates who know they were going to be defeated.
Several opposition and independent bloggers argue that the CNE's one-sidedness and the potential for fraud were widely known before the thumbprint machines issue came out. Thus, there is no reason for a last minute withdrawal. On the contrary, some bloggers allege that the opposition could be in a better electoral position now since the international observers witnessed the irregularities in the operation of the voting machines, which had always been claimed by the opposition parties but had never before been proven. In general, most Venezuelan bloggers agree that the citizens opposed to Chávez cannot depend on these unresponsive parties to represent their political views.
Venezuelans who oppose Chávez seems to be looking for leadership and creative ways to get mobilized. Along those lines, a series of e-mail and cell phone text messages inviting citizens to go to churches next Sunday instead of going to vote have been circulating widely this week1. However, many Venezuelan bloggers think that “praying is not enough”, as Venezuelan diseased folk song-writer Alí Primera should have sung.
On November 30 evening, First Justice announced that they are also withdrawing from the elections. Opposition parties are now demanding the CNE to suspend elections.
Most Venezuelans bloggers consider this series of events as a travesty that would undermine democracy rather than helping to overcome electoral vices. Abstention is likely to reach historical record, since people do not see the point in voting without the main opposition parties. A few bloggers are still arguing for voting to keep democracy going.
1: Although the majority of Venezuelans are nominally Christians—mostly Catholics—, most are not customary church-goers.