Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Venezuelans to hold elections December 6, López maintains his hunger strike (June 23, 2015)

Venezuelan authorities announced that elections for the 167-seat unicameral National Assembly will be held on December 6 -- a date that commemorates the first election of the late President Hugo Chávez in 1998.

Official campaigning will begin on November 13 and Unasur will be invited to monitor the elections, reports the Miami Herald

The elections, in which the Socialist Party (PSUV) legislative majority could be defeated by a coalition of 29 opposition parties, were legally required to be held this year, but the government had not yet set a date, leading some to question whether they would be held.

Opposition parties and international diplomacy applied increasing pressure for authorities to set a date. But in yesterday's announcement election council head Tibisay Lucena said authorities were not bowing to such pressure. She ratified that the elections had always been scheduled for this year, adding her team provided all the assistance to the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) for their internal elections last May, reports TeleSur.

Polls indicate that voters will punish the governing PSUV, in a context of triple-digit inflation and shortages of basic goods, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Miami Herald also notes rampant crime.

A recent poll by Datanálisis found Mr. Maduro’s popularity at 25% in June. More than 84% of respondents felt the country was heading in the wrong direction and nearly half of the population blamed the president for food shortages. The same polls found two out of five Venezuelans identifying themselves as opposition, while just over 20% allied were with the ruling party. The rest were undecided, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But opponents of the Bolivarian Revolution shouldn't rejoice too soon. (See May 18th's post.)

Opposition parties have not captured a legislative majority since Chávez won the presidency more than 16 years ago, notes The Guardian. They have lost every recent national election, and currently hold about a third of the seats in the legislature.

Some analysts also note that the PSUV will spend heavily ahead of the elections and that districts were redrawn for the last elections in a way that favors the governing party.

It's worth revisiting an analysis by Dimitris Pantoulas and David Smilde from last month which notes that "opposition movement has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before."

The opposition benefits from anger towards the government, but comes with few concrete proposals, note Pantoulas and Smilde. "The opposition ... is distinguished by the abstract nature of its message and diffuseness of its proposals. ... When it bothers to communicate at all, the opposition tends to focus on issues of liberty that rally its base but leave most of the population flat."
The PSUV will hold primaries this weekend. President Nicolás Maduro urged followers to flock to the polls on Sunday and build popular support for the upcoming election, reports the Miami Herald.

Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López has not suspended his hunger strike, which has been ongoing for 29 days, although an election date with international observation was one of his primary demands. 

His wife Lilian Tintori visited him this weekend and said he is too weak to stand. He has resisted calls from family and social leaders to desist in the hunger strike, which has been joined by up to a hundred other prisoners, students and members of civil society according to his political party, Voluntad Política.

The Miami Herald notes that human rights organizations have called his trial a sham.

The Washington Post reports that setting an election date with international observers were two of the three goals on the agenda for a meeting in Haiti last week between State Department counselor Thomas Shannon, a former assistant secretary for Latin America, and the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. The final aim was to keep López alive and free him and other political prisoners.

Analysts say it's likely he will lift it shortly, and members of his Voluntad Popular political party tweeted yesterday that the strikes had been successful.
Maduro's six-year presidential term lasts until 2019, but will be eligible for a voter referendum at the midway mark next year. Polls earlier this year found that two thirds of Venezuelan voters expected Maduro's administration to end with a referendum, according to the Wall Street Journal.

On a humorous side-note the Miami Herald continues to try to establish the existence of an alleged "U.S. Government" source quoted in pro-government Venezuelan media. The enigmatic Jim Luers now has a column in Quinto Día.

News Briefs 

  • Haitian migrants looking to leave the Dominican Republic ahead of a wave of expected deportations are being offered free bus service to the Haitian border for the next two weeks, reports the AP.
  • Four prominent opposition politicians and members of Congress were charged in Chile with tax fraud in a high-profile corruption case related to illegal campaign financing, reports the New York Times. They will be the first politicians to appear in court, in a case that appears to involve dozens of candidates from across the political spectrum over a period of the past decade. The four -- Senator Iván Moreira; Congressman Felipe de Mussy; Jovino Novoa, a former senator and official in Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship; and Pablo Zalaquett, a former mayor in Santiago — are accused of using trusted individuals and firms as intermediaries to issue false invoices to the financial holding firm Penta and the mining giant SQM, among other companies, in order to obtain funds for their campaigns. They are all members of the right-wing opposition party Independent Democratic Union, known as U.D.I.
  • A dozen Central American migrants escaped gang kidnappers in southern Mexico, reports the BBC. The tens of thousands of migrants crossing through Mexico are vulnerable to abductions and forced recruitment.
  • Hundreds of Mexican migrant agricultural workers, desperately needed for the U.S. harvest, continue to be stranded at the border due to a computer glitch, reports Reuters. Washington State's cherry crop is particularly vulnerable, as the time-frame for picking is passing, according to the piece.
  • Haiti's capital got its first movie theater in years, reports the AP, a welcome sign of progress after a devastating earthquake five years ago 

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