Monday, December 11, 2017

Venezuela's government sweeps municipal elections, largely unopposed (Dec. 11, 2017)

Venezuela's ruling party won municipal elections around the country yesterday -- a bit of a foregone conclusion as leading opposition parties boycotted the vote. Nonetheless, President Nicolás Maduro celebrated victory in more than 300 of Venezuela's 335 counties, reports the Wall Street Journal. Ruling PSUV party candidates won in 39 of the 40 of the country's major localities, reports the New York Times

Though expected, the results leave the PSUV in power in nearly all instances of government in the country: from municipalities, to governorships up through the supra-legislative National Constituent Assembly (ANC) polemically created this year to sidestep the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The 47 percent turnout was lower than any other election in the past six years, but still higher than expected. However, in opposition bastions many demoralized voters chose to stay away, participation in some was as low as 10 percent. A selection of opposition candidates ran as independents across the country, but failed to attract much support without the backing of their party infrastructure.

Leading opposition parties called for a boycott, saying participation would only serve to legitimize Maduro's government. They made the move in the wake of October's gubernatorial elections, which they say the ruling PSUV party won through illicit maneuvering and alleged fraud in some cases. Indeed, yesterday's election was predicted to suffer many of those same irregularities, wrote Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights on Saturday. "These include the fact that the vote was called by the Constituent Assembly, the use of state resources to support pro-government candidates, and concerns over transparency in the voting process—though the most important audits appear to be in place."

The turnout was helped however by the government's promise of social benefits for participants, reports the WSJ. Shortly before the election Maduro promised "presents" for voters in a nationally televised address, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The Observatorio Electoral Venezolano (OEV) denounced at least 77 irregularities yesterday, including electoral violence and procedural issues. But the most frequent cases were of electoral propaganda in the form of registering participants in order to give them social benefits, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
The loss of key municipal seats was to be expected in a scenario in which major opposition parties boycotted the election, emphasized Luis Vicente León to Efecto Cocuyo, which compares yesterday's results to those of 2013's local elections. "It’s absurd to think that an abstaining political force can win the majority of mayorships," said León on Twitter. And opposition candidate and former political detainee Yon Goicoechea said the boycott and opposition disarray would allow the government to win without need to resort to fraud.

In a further blow to the weakened opposition coalition, Maduro has threatened to ban parties that did not participate on Sunday. "They will disappear from the political map," he said. Yesterday PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello said the decision regarding party participation in next year's presidential elections will lie with the very pro-government ANC, reports Efecto Cocuyo

And the results are likely to push the government to move forward with next year's presidential election. Angling to take advantage of opposition disorganization, elections could be held as early as March. The move raises questions about voter choice in the elections, in which Maduro is expected to run for reelection, reports the Guardian.

Venezuela aside: the migration option that has tempted thousands of residents to leave the country includes unique challenges for senior-citizens, who must face setting up from scratch in their retirement years, reports the New York Times.

News Briefs
  • Two weeks after Honduras' questioned presidential election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced that a partial hand recount of votes ratified the initial results -- a slim win for incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, reports Deutsche Welle. An official winner must be declared by Dec. 26. The recount of  4,753 ballot boxes gave Hernández 50 percent of the vote, compared to 31.5 percent for opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, reports Reuters. The new results leave Hernández 1.6 percent ahead of Nasralla, reports La Prensa Gráfica. Nonetheless, opposition leaders said the TSE results are still untrustworthy, reports El País. The TSE is now considering the approximate 150 electoral challenges it has received, reports the Associated Press. On Friday opposition parties presented a formal request to annul the much questioned election.
  • Honduran Culture and Politics reports on the technical details of an alleged system malfunction that led TSE servers to go down in the midst of a protracted vote count.
  • Thousands of Honduran protesters demonstrated outside the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa over the weekend, calling for U.S. support in the political crisis, reports the Miami Herald. They also linked increased migration north to violence perpetrated by the Hernández administration. Many called for U.S. support against a second term for incumbent Hernández, saying their desire to stay in Honduras is countered by the government's human rights abuses and corruption. 
  • "The Honduran government is deploying dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices in the aftermath of one of the country’s worst political crisis in a decade, including preventing lawyers and human rights activists from visiting detained demonstrators," Amnesty International said last week. The organization called on the government to halt "use of illegitimate or excessive force against protesters by security forces, ending arbitrary detentions, and investigating all instances of human rights violations"
  • Two of Mexico's main opposition parties -- the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) -- announced an alliance ahead of next year's presidential elections, reports the Wall Street Journal. The new coalition, Por México, Al Frente, which also includes the smaller Citizen Movement party, could shakeup the elections: together they had 32 percent of voters in a recent election, tying with front-runner, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). The Frente could provide an option for voters disgusted by the ruling PRI party's extensive corruption scandals, but who don't lean towards AMLO. Some 75 percent of Mexicans want a change in government, according to a recent Reforma poll. Initial campaign promises include ending corruption, impunity, recovering peace and making the economy grow for everybody, reports Animal Político.
  • The Washington Post reports on a bill in Mexico's Senate that would enshrine the role of the military in internal law enforcement. Proponents of the Internal Security Law say the law could resolve legal problems involving the deployment of troops domestically, necessary due to ill-prepared police forces. But critics say the bill will risk militarization of the country, weaken civilian oversight and offer fewer incentives for local politicians to fix their police forces
  • Elea Valle, a resident of a remote Nicaraguan rural town, has become the symbol of the struggle against impunity in the country after two of her children were killed in an army massacre three weeks ago, reports El País. While the military said it was cracking down on criminal groups, analysts say armed groups operating in the area are politically motivated.
  • The high-profile arrest of a Rio de Janeiro drug-lord left residents of the Rocinha favela he dominated concerned about an increase in violence, reports the Guardian.
  • Latin America remains one of the most unequal regions in the world, according to new World Bank data on income inequality. The good news is that the region has made the most progress in evening out the odds since the turn of the century, lowering its Gini index for wage inequality by 6 points from 2002 to 2013, reports Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

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