Resurgent Chavismo takes the initiative with Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly vote

The closing rally in the Constituent Assembly campaign in Caracas on July 27. Photo from TeleSUR.
Friday, August 4, 2017

After weeks of imperialist threats and opposition violence, the elections for Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly (ANC) took place on July 30. The result was a huge turnout of more than 8 million voters, around 41% of the electorate, which gave Chavismo a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Western media reacted by trying to dispute the numbers and sticking even closer to the narrative being pushed by the opposition and the US State Department. With the opposition scrambling and US authorities bringing more sanctions, it is now Chavismo that has the political initiative.

The ANC will not solve everything by itself, but it is a tremendous chance to push the Bolivarian Revolution forward.

A tale of two elections

The Venezuelan opposition held a “consultation” on July 16, in which it called on its supporters to symbolically reject the ANC, appeal for a military coup and support a so-called “national unity” government.

Associated Press reported on the turnout: “The opposition said 7.6 million Venezuelans participated in Sunday’s symbolic referendum, which the government labelled an internal party poll with no relevance for the country.”

There is no mention of the fact that people were free to vote more than once, that no electoral roll was used and that no audit was possible because everything was burned at the end of the day.

In contrast, the July 30 ANC elections had the full weight of the electoral authorities behind them, more than 12,000 voting centres and 24,000 voting booths, and the approval of international monitors.

The main obstacle was the opposition’s violence, so extra voting centres, such as the Caracas Poliedro pavilion, were set up for people who were not able to vote in their own neighbourhoods. Voting queues formed early in the morning and the voting deadline was extended so everyone could vote.

The Venezuelan voting system is as close to foolproof as it gets. Voters access voting machines using their fingerprints, exercise their vote electronically, and then a paper ballot is printed. The voter checks that it matches the vote they just made and places this paper ballot in a box.

Once the voting is done, a random audit of voting centres is made to ensure that the paper ballot tally matches the electronic tally to a margin of 0.1%. A big discrepancy between the voting totals, paper and electronic, would stand out immediately.

And yet, Associated Press reported on the July 30 turnout, writing: “National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout was 41.53%, or 8,089,320 people. Members of the opposition said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted and one well-respected independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.”

Based on what, exactly? If they have evidence they should present it. Surely, among the thousands of electoral commission workers, one of them would report that there were three times more electronic votes than paper ballots in their centre.

The opposition’s long track record of crying fraud and presenting fabricated evidence (or none at all) also makes these claims very hard to believe.

In any case, we expect the media to uncritically parrot the opposition “prediction” with the same bias that they uncritically parrot the 7.6 million total for the opposition’s consultation.

‘World ending tomorrow … or next week’

After winning legislative elections in December 2015, the Venezuelan opposition announced that it would get rid of the government in six months. After protests in September last year, again the oppositions said that the end was near.

The same doomsday announcements were madein the recent wave of protests and violence. In response to the call for the ANC, opposition leaders boldly announced that it would not take place.

Finally, the opposition announced that their July 16 consultation marked the “zero hour” of a new phase, in which they would nominate a “national unity” government. This was later downgraded to a “governability accord” that some factions refused to sign. Their demand that the ANC elections be cancelled was also a failure.

Events in the days leading up to the ANC vote capture this phenomenon in a nutshell. After a two-day “civic strike”, which amounted to little more than closed shops in wealthy areas and bosses locking out their workers, they announced the “takeover of Caracas” for July 28. This then became a “takeover of Venezuela”, and finally another “trancazo”, in which opposition groups simply lock down their own areas.

Then they wanted to march to voting centres on July 29 and physically impede the elections from taking place, but this too was to become another “trancazo”.

There is very little credibility left to this opposition that behaves like a doomsday cult, predicting the end of the world on a given day and later re-scheduling.

For their own sake, one hopes that they have a “no refund” policy, otherwise US government-funded groups like the US National Endowment for Democracy or USAID might want their money back.

Lessons in democracy

The pressure and propaganda against Venezuela in recent weeks were centred on the idea that the simple fact of these elections taking place would mean the “end of democracy” and the definitive arrival of a “dictatorship”.

Often absent from these pieces is the fact that everyone could vote and anyone could stand as a candidate.

But beyond this we come up against the obvious question of why Venezuela should get lessons in democracy or electoral procedures from the likes of the United States.

The fact that Brazil complained about the legitimacy of this process shows that an unexpected victim of last year’s parliamentary coup, which brought Michel Temer to power, was irony.

When it became clear that the Venezuelan government was not going to back down and the vote was going ahead, the tone changed slightly. The US, the European Union and the usual suspects (Argentina, Mexico, Colombia) announced they would not recognise the election results.

Here it is worth recalling a few episodes of international recognition:

– The US initially refused to recognise the results of the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election, even after it was proven beyond any doubt that Maduro was the winner.

– The US and Spain rushed to recognise Pedro Carmona’s short-lived government after the 2002 coup, even though the coup authorities dissolved all public powers.

To these we could add a multitude of leaders who came to power after bloody or back-door coups, from military dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile to Temer in Brazil, and never had any trouble being “recognised”.

What happens next?

The total of 8 million votes is higher than Maduro’s 2013 presidential election total and 2.5 million more than what Chavismo got in the 2015 legislative elections. This is being presented as “evidence” against the official results.

This stems from a very narrow-minded perspective that does not understand that Chavismo is much bigger than Maduro, just like it was much bigger than former president Hugo Chavez.

The Venezuelan opposition and the mainstream media also seem incapable of considering that people would actually vote in defiance of the violent actions of the opposition and the imperialist threats from the US. Instead we hear the same recycled allegations that public workers or people living in houses built by the government were forced to vote.

The poor showing in 2015 was blamed by the grassroots on the top-down nature of the Chavista electoral machine, which simply chose the candidates.

For these elections the more radical sectors were able to put forward their own candidates, and as a result many people who would not necessarily vote for Maduro or for United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) legislative candidates went out to vote for the specific proposals put forward by friends, co-workers and comrades.

In retrospect, Maduro’s gamble can only be seen as a huge success for Chavismo and a huge failure for the opposition. With the opposition ramping up (violent) pressure on the streets and claiming they were an overwhelming majority, Maduro essentially “called their bluff”.

By calling for the ANC, Maduro hoped, and managed, to galvanise Chavismo with a participatory process that could reach the bases, and at the same time expose the opposition by forcing them to bring forward their ideas.

Polls reveal that Venezuelans are aware that the opposition has no plan whatsoever, and the opposition duly backed itself into a corner by refusing to participate, reducing their political arguments to lobotomised slogans such as “we do not want to be Cuba”.

While the turnout represents a victory for Chavismo, the battle is far from over. The ANC is not a magical cure for all problems, and whatever comes out of it will depend heavily on the balance of forces among its members.

With the opposition hell-bent on its violent regime change plans and a permanent imperial onslaught, only radicalisation will ensure the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution.

[Abridged from Investig’Action.]