Venezuela’s May 20 presidential election may be an election in name only.
The government has grown increasingly authoritarian since Maduro was narrowly elected in 2013 to succeed Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s popular leftist leader and Maduro’s mentor. The Socialist regime is now deploying all its amassed powers to ensure that this disliked president wins reelection.
Reasons not to vote
Since announcing it would hold a 2018 presidential election, Maduro’s government has severely limited who can appear on the ballot. Four of the five most prominent opposition leaders have been either jailed or barred from office – a main reason for the boycott.
Legally, the election may be unconstitutional because it was called by the Constituent Assembly. The Socialist Party created and installed this legislative super body in 2017 to undermine the opposition-dominated Venezuelan National Assembly.
Smartmatic, the London-based company that long provided Venezuela’s voting machines, announced that the turnout to vote for Maduro’s Constituent Assembly in 2017 was manipulated. It calculates that at least 1 million phantom voters were added to the final count. Similar problems were documented in Venezuela’s 2017 gubernatorial elections.
According to political scientist Javier Corrales, who lead a recent Amherst College study on Venezuela’s electoral system, Maduro’s regime has committed “at least 10” of 11 possible pre-election irregularities.
Hunger as a political tool
Hunger is spreading. According to a February survey by three Venezuelan universities, almost 80 percent of respondents eat less than they used to. Sixty percent go to bed hungry. And nearly two-thirds have lost more than 20 pounds this past year.
In January 2017, Maduro’s regime introduced a national identification document that gives cardholders access to government food aid and other social services. But according to an investigation by El Nacional, Venezuela’s nonpartisan leading newspaper, citizens only get those benefits if they agreed to vote for Maduro when they signed up.
The international organization Human Rights Watch confirms this account. Its Americas researcher says citizens are “hostages of hunger,” with Maduro’s regime exchanging food and other services for votes.
Another key constituency that will be notably absent from Sunday’s election: Venezuelan refugees.
Over 4 million people have left the country in recent years, fleeing hunger, corruption and violence. Business professionals began leaving Venezuela after Chávez’s 1998 election, but mass migration has spiked since the crisis began in 2015.