Elections without transparency
Regime loyalists often point to frequent elections in Venezuela (15 elections within 19 years) as a sign of democracy. Yet, these votes routinely lack transparency and therefore legitimacy. Following Chavez’s death, his chosen successor Maduro was elected in 2013, by a slim majority. The opposition requested an audit of the ballots, following a large number of voting day irregularities. The National Electoral Council (NEC), which oversees the electoral process and is dominated by pro-regime officials, subsequently confirmed Maduro’s victory. An independent survey indicated that 64 per cent of Venezuelans do not trust the NEC to do its job.
Judiciary stacked against the opposition
In December 2015, opposition leaders recorded a rare victory, handsomely defeating Maduro’s socialists in the National Assembly elections. However, they are denied meaningful power by regime-controlled institutions, particularly the judiciary. Immediately prior to December’s vote, the previous National Assembly appointed a number of justices loyal to Maduro to the Supreme Court. The court has since granted Maduro special economic powers while declaring several opposition-led parliamentary initiatives unlawful. The Supreme Court has also ruled that any National Assembly investigation into the pre-election appointment of judges would constitute “fraud against the fundamental order.” No separation of powers exists in Venezuela, guaranteeing that the president maintains control over fundamental decision-making.
Media and opposition freedom quashed
In addition to the manipulation of the political process, the Chavez and Maduro regimes have effectively silenced opposition voices. Television stations have been ordered to end broadcasts which are deemed subversive or inappropriate and in 2007, the country’s main broadcasting network RCTV was forced to shut down. There is little or no criticism of the regime in Venezuela’s traditional media. Meanwhile, the government’s regulator blocked more than 1,000 websites in 2014.
Intimidation of political opponents is rife. High-profile opposition leaders have been routinely imprisoned on fabricated charges. Meanwhile, members of the public who dared sign in support of a Recall Referendum against Chavez in 2004 were blacklisted, fired from public offices and denied social benefits.