Latin American Advisor Q&A on Henri Falcón Candidacy

Yesterday the Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter Latin American Advisor had a Q&A section on the Henri Falcón candidacy. The respondents were Diego Arria, Eva Golinger, Jennifer McCoy, Gustavo Roosen, and myself. My contribution is below. You can read the entire Q&A here.

LAA: Venezuela’s snap presidential election, originally called for April 22, has been pushed back by a month, to May 20. The National Electoral Council said the move will provide more time for candidates to campaign. While the main opposition coalition has said it will boycott the race, calling it neither free nor fair, one national figure from its ranks, Henri Falcón, has defied colleagues by declaring that he will run against President Nicolás Maduro, seeking to deny him a second six-year term. Is the decision to hold the election later a positive or negative step for democracy in Venezuela? What does Falcón’s decision to enter the race mean for the opposition, and how much of a chance does he have of unseating Maduro? What would need to transpire before Venezuela’s election results could be recognized as free and fair?

DS: “It is not possible, in the current circumstances, to have a fair presidential election in Venezuela. The most popular opposition politicians have been disqualified, jailed or have fled the country because of judicial pursuit, and several of the most popular political parties have been banned as well. What is more, carrying out fraud twice in the past year has discredited the National Electoral Council with large segments of the population and made them into abstainers. However, saying an election is unfair is not the same as saying it is unwinnable. The basic electoral machinery works and a flood of participation, happening in the context of credible international and domestic observation, could be unstoppable. Henri Falcón broke with the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) which has chosen to boycott the election. He has the popularity to defeat Maduro—indeed he is more popular than the MUD and every other politician except Leopoldo López. But he does not have the organization to mobilize the vote, nor to mobilize witnesses to monitor polling places. The MUD is not only not going to help Falcón, they are going to actively oppose his candidacy. In their view, he is a traitor who is seeking a presidency that should have gone to a MUD candidate. The CNE’s inflation of vote totals in the July National Constituent Assembly election was detected by Smartmatic, the creators of the electronic platform, which subsequently abandoned their Venezuelan operations. The fraud in Bolívar state in the October gubernatorial elections was detectable because of opposition witnesses. This time around, if opposition witnesses are not mobilized, the CNE could easily alter the vote and not be detected.”