Venezuela New Electoral Board Might Draw Opposition to the Polls

Venezuela’s congress approved a new electoral board Tuesday including two of President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents, a move that could persuade sectors of the opposition to participate in this year’s regional elections and beyond.

Enrique Marquez, a harsh critic of Maduro’s policies and former vice president of the National Assembly, as well as Roberto Picon, long-time opposition electoral adviser who was jailed for six months in 2017 under accusations of treason, were approved by the government-controlled National Assembly from a list of 103 candidates for the the CNE, as the electoral board is known.

Venezuela New Electoral Board Might Draw Opposition to the Polls

Venezuela’s elections have been marred by accusations of fraud and government meddling for more than a decade, causing major opposition parties to boycott polls since 2018, when Maduro was re-elected for another six-year term in a vote widely viewed as a sham. While the opposition has long sought the inclusion of international observers and an impartial electoral body, the group has splintered in the past year, most notably with opposition leader Juan Guaido rejecting the newly-approved body as “illegitimate.” Still, the development may offer an opening.

“Even a partial concession on the CNE’s composition is likely to persuade some opposition forces into participating in the local and gubernatorial elections,” Eurasia Group analysts led by Risa Grais-Targow wrote in a note to clients.

Pedro Calzadilla, Tania D’Amelio and Alexis Corredor, all former members of the ruling socialist party, were chosen as the other three directors of the electoral body’s board, National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez said Tuesday during a congressional session. Calzadilla, Maduro’s former education minister, is the favorite to be the new president of the body, three people familiar with the matter said.

‘Good News’

Although Maduro’s allies will control a majority of the CNE, it is the first time since 2004 that more than one of its members is favorable to the opposition. Candidates were chosen after months of negotiations between the government and a segment of the opposition led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, three people familiar with the talks said.

The new council replaces the board unilaterally appointed last year by the Supreme Court ahead of parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition. D’Amelio is the only member of the current board who will remain in office, where she’s been since 2009.

The appointment of Marquez and Picon is “good news” for segments of the opposition that want to boost participation in the upcoming elections, said political scientist Guillermo Tell Aveledo.

“This could help to generate trust, but the electoral system is so obfuscated by the authoritarian system, that much more is needed: opposition parties must be legalized and their leaders shouldn’t be banned for politics,” Aveledo said.

‘A Window’

The “unitary platform” of opposition parties, led by Guaido, rejected in a statement the “unilateral imposition” of the electoral council, arguing that partial negotiations respond to a strategy from Maduro to fracture his opponents. The OAS General Secretariat also rejected the appointment of the new CNE in an “illegitimate assembly.”

Tuesday’s appointments are part of a series of small but rare concessions by Maduro, whose authoritarian rule and socialist policies led to the worst economic crisis in the nation’s history. In what’s been seen as an effort to improve relations with the U.S., he announced last week that the UN World Food Program would start operating in the country, surrendering some control over the nation’s food distribution.

On Friday, six American senior executives of Citgo Petroleum Corp. who’ve been detained by the government since 2017 were transferred from prison to house arrest.

The sum of Maduro’s more open stance on electoral terms and on humanitarian assistance may prompt some marginal U.S. sanctions relief and open room for talks with the opposition, Eurasia Group said.

“The appointment of the CNE is a positive step that will require a series of additional negotiations to rescue the electoral conditions and guarantees,” Michael Penfold, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington and full professor at IESA in Caracas, tweeted. “Is it imperfect? Undoubtedly. Open a window? Absolutely.”

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