Venezuela elections 2018: A look at the key points

Venezuelans are heading to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and representatives for the state councils.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro won a new six-year term on Sunday, the election board announced in what is being seen as a controversial vote.

The turnout at the Venezuelan presidential election amounted at 46.01 percent the official date revealed.

The elections were initially scheduled for December, then changed to April 22, then delayed again to May 2018.

This electoral process has been heavily criticised by the opposition and the international community, who have said they will not recognise it. 

Here is what we know:

What is the country voting for? 

  • Venezuela will hold its presidential elections on May 20, but the country will also vote to choose the members of state and municipal legislative councils. 

  • Just over 20 million citizens can vote in the presidential election, and a total of 19 million can choose their representatives in the state legislative councils.

  • Only Venezuelans living overseas and in Caracas can participate in the presidential elections. 

Who is running for president?

Four candidates are running for president. But the two main players are Nicolas Maduro and opposition candidate Henri Falcon.

The main opposition coalition has decided to boycott the elections.

Nicolas Maduro 

  • Nicolas Maduro, 55, has been Venezuela’s president since former President Hugo Chavez died in 2013.

  • Under Chavez, the country turned towards socialism. Maduro continued many of the Chavez policies and during his campaign has promised to create a “new economy” in the country. 

  • Maduro stated he had followed Chavez’s legacy, adding: “I will dedicate my life to fixing the economy of this country. My spirit is renewed, my energy recharged.”

Henri Falcon 

  • Falcon is Maduro’s primary opponent and was once a Chavez supporter. A lawyer and former governor of Lara State, he broke with the ruling party in 2010, and in 2013 was the campaign chief for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. 

  • In 2018, he decided to break with the opposition and run as an independent candidate. 
  • In an op-ed written for the New York Times, Falcon said he decided on the break because “electoral boycotts almost never work. In country after country, opposition forces that abandoned the field of electoral competition have lost ground and allowed rulers to consolidate power.”

  • Among his proposals are the use of the US dollar as a currency instead of the Bolivar to try to stabilise the economy. He also said he would accept foreign aid to Venezuela and would consider working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Javier Bertucci

  • Bertucci is an evangelical pastor who announced his candidacy on February 18, 2018.  

  • He calls himself an “independent candidate with no political history.” 

  • Bertucci has said he would eliminate exchange controls and attempt to increase foreign investment. He also said he would not eliminate the social programmes initiated by Chavez’ “Bolivarian Revolution”. 

Reinaldo Quijada:

  • Quijada is an electrical engineer who follows the Chavista movement; he announced his candidacy on April 22. 

  • The engineer defends Bolivarian Revolution but does not support Maduro’s government. If he wins, Quijada claims he will continue the “revolutionary process” started by Chavez in Venezuela. 

Translation: This is a mock-up of the election card for May 20. Ten “spots” support Maduro vs seven others supporting other candidates from other parties.

Note: Maduro is not wearing red in his clothing. 

What is the opposition boycotting?  

  • The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of parties that in recent years worked together and represented the opposition against Chavez and Maduro, declared it would boycott the election. 

  • But the coalition faced internal division between those who think that taking part in this election would legitimise Maduro’s rule and those who believe that participation is an opportunity for change. 
  • In a statement, the MUD said the election was “premature” and lacked “proper conditions,” and called it “a show by the government to give an impression of legitimacy that it does not have in the midst of Venezuelans’ agony and suffering.”

  • Most of the candidates who might have run against Maduro have been barred from running, including Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez. Capriles was banned from holding office for 15 years due to “administrative irregularities”, and Lopez is facing house arrest.  
  • Henri Falcon broke with the MUD and decided to run against Maduro. “You will disappear as politicians and as parties for not understanding the dynamics of a country that demands solutions and not conflict,” Falcon told the MUD.

What is the government saying? 

  • Maduro says Venezuela’s electoral system is clean and accuses the US of leading a right-wing international conspiracy to end socialism and take over his nation’s oil. 
  • “I’m ready for the battle, ready to make history,” Maduro said. “Who is it who gets to elect the president of Venezuela? A military coup? … The government of Colombia? …. Donald Trump?” Maduro said during Thursday’s event in  Caracas.

  • The government has support across different sectors; according to various estimates, about a quarter of eligible voters continue to support Maduro’s political ideology and policies.

  • “I don’t think the opposition parties are offering a real alternative to bring change,” Zumira Cardozo, a government supporter, told Al Jazeera. “We reached to this point, due to the economic war they have imposed against the government”, she added.

  • “The only actor that must recognise the elections is the Venezuelan people, and the only institution that has the faculties to give results and legitimise the process is the National Electoral Council of Venezuela,” the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information wrote. 

Key issues

  • Economy: The central issue the country is facing is the economic crisis, with current inflation and long queues for food and medicines.

  • The cost of living and lack of basic goods has led to street protests in recent years. The IMF expects the economy to shrink by 15 percent in 2018, and also expects unemployment to rise to 36 percent by 2022. 

  • Hyperinflation, along with a $70bn bond default means that basic food and medicine can not be imported. The military has been put in charge of food distribution, and the government is running out of cash.
  • Oil industry: Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but domestic sector is currently failing to meet local needs.  The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) says oil production is down to a 30-year low of around 1.4mn barrels a day.

  • Insufficient investments, US sanctions, and the plunge in global oil prices have hammered the oil industry.
  • In the private sector, US energy company ConocoPhillips has seized assets belonging to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA over a $2bn dispute over unpaid debts.
  • Leaving the country: Many citizens are choosing to leave the country. Roughly 550,000 Venezuelans left for Colombia at the end of 2017, according to migration authorities. 

What is the international community saying? 

  • Turkey, Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia have voiced their support for this process.

  • The Lima Group – which brings together 12 nations mostly from Latin America – expressed its “strongest rejection” and stated that this process “will lack all legitimacy and credibility.”

  • On February 23, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution that called on the Venezuelan government to cancel the presidential elections. 

  • The European Parliament also said in February that it would not recognise the election unless several conditions are met, such as the release of political prisoners.

 May 21 

  • Citizens are expected to know the results by Monday, May 21. 
  • While the 2017 elections saw massive protests, this year there are no large-scale demonstrations planned for election day. 
Source: Al Jazeera