Notes on Venezuela’s Municipal Elections

On December 10 Venezuela will hold hold municipal elections, with Venezuelans voting for mayors in 335 localities in addition to a special race for governor in Zulia state. Most analysts predict Chavismo will make major inroads in the 76 municipalities currently held by opposition figures due to the MUD coalition’s partial boycott of the vote, and its diminished ability to mobilize its base—especially in comparison with the government’s own ability to ensure turnout among its voters.

As with the October regional elections, there are important irregularities in this vote. According to the non-governmental Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV), the municipal elections will suffer from the same shortcomings seen in October. 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. Additionally, the vote will not include elections for concejales (the equivalent of city councils) despite the fact that these are usually included in municipal elections.

Even under all of these conditions, it is notable that the OEV is still encouraging Venezuelans to participate in the election. On December 7, the organization issued a statement urging Venezuelan citizens to vote in spite of the lack of electoral guarantees, encouraging them to fulfill “a crucial and inescapable responsibility.”

In the wake of the surprisingly high opposition abstention in regional elections in October, political analysts in Venezuela have had difficulty estimating exactly what percentage of the electorate will stay home. Most analysts predict that the abstention rate will be over 50 percent.

According to Luis Vicente Leon of Datanalisis, polling on abstention is unreliable but the figure will be high. As the pollster tweeted: “For the first time, national surveys cannot give us solid information on participation in local elections, since the expected abstention is greater than that which is reported. In our opinion, the result will be much worse for the opposition than what was reported in the polls.”

The boycott will not be fully recognized by the opposition. Three major parties in the MUD—Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia, and Accion Democratica—have participated in the boycott, with some smaller ones also joining in. The two most well-known parties not boycotting the vote are Avanzada Progresista, led by Lara governor Henri Falcon, and Un Nuevo Tiempo, headed by Manuel Rosales. Both leaders have electoral ambitions, with Falcon likely paving the way for a 2018 presidential bid and Rosales taking advantage of a recent reversal in his ban on holding office to run for governor in Zulia. Other figures, such as former political prisoner Yon Goicoechea, have broken from their parties’ leadership and decided to run as candidates with other participating parties.

Interestingly, there has been some evidence of splits within the PSUV-led Polo Patriotico bloc as well in these elections. Indeed smaller Chavista-aligned parties such as the Venezuelan Communist Party(PCV)  and Fatherland for All (PPT) have in a number of cases refused to cede to a PSUV-supported candidate uncontested, evidence of cracks within the governing coalition over local political ambitions.

Writing for Prodavinci, electoral analyst Eugenio Martinez has a must-read overview of the scenario ahead of the vote, citing internal polling analyses of advisors within both the opposition and the PSUV. According to Martinez, the opposition gives itself a “best-case” outcome of holding on to 30 of the 76 localities it currently controls. The PSUV, however, estimates that it will gain all but between 15 and 20, meaning the ruling party would control roughly 94 percent of municipalities in the country. In addition to abstention and the partial boycott, Martinez cites the potential for vote “dispersion” as a complicating factor for the opposition, noting that there are roughly eight candidates in every race for a municipal seat held by the opposition.

Other analysts, like Félix Seijas of the polling firm Delphos and Marcos Hernández of Hercon, have said that they expect the government to perform worse in municipalities of states that are more traditional opposition strongholds, such as Miranda, Lara, Nueva Esparta, Mérida, Táchira and Zulia. Particularly relevant will be control over the opposition municipalities where most protests occurred in 2014 and 2017. Municipalities controlled by Chavismo will be able to clamp down on attempts at street mobilization.