Chavistas See Population Explosion, Just in Time for Pivotal Elections

Venezuela’s National Assembly has approved new population estimates, which critics claim will artificially boost the electoral power of pro-government voters in 2015’s elections. (LosreportesdeLichi)

EspañolArtificial changes to electoral data are underway in Venezuela which will massively benefit the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) in this year’s legislative elections, according to NGOs and opposition politicians.

On Tuesday, April 21, the National Assembly, in which the PSUV holds an overwhelming majority, passed a bill to recognize revised population data estimates, which will result in a reform of constituencies and boost the number of overall congressmen from 165 to 167, as well as reallocating the number of representatives in various districts.

The move follows a new population estimate issued by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), on the request of the National Electoral Council (CNE). According to the INE’s latest Population Index, Venezuela will be home to 30,825,782 people by the end of 2015, requiring the addition of two seats to the national assembly.

The CNE are to use the Population Index, once they formally approve it, to reform voter districts. The five members of the Council are appointed by the Supreme Court, which is in turn staffed with government-appointed judges. The changes would be effective in this year’s legislative elections, for which a date is yet to be set.

Chavista Population Explosion

Opposition Congressman Alfonso Marquina claimed that the decision is “another trick” played with the country’s institutions to benefit the government at the polls, arguing that the authorities have unduly boosted population estimates for PSUV strongholds to secure more representatives.

Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba, head of the country’s largest opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), also raised doubts over the numbers presented by the government, especially in small towns.

Marquina remarked that the population of several such pro-government areas, according to the latest INE data, will have grown by up to 76 percent in the six months leading up to polls, likely to held in December.

The government was manipulating the data, he argued, because “they’re aware that 80 percent of Venezuelans reject” the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.

Data Sleight of Hand

Súmate, an NGO with logistical and technical experience in covering electoral events, alleged that statistics for 19 of the 24 states of the country have been doctored, by adding or subtracting a large amount of people.

paper released by the NGO points to clear “anomalies” in the data: populations levels are dramatically diminished in seven pro-opposition states in time for elections in December 2015. Then, by June 2016, the “subtracted population is brought back … by rapidly inflated growth” in order to disguise the manipulation.

As a result, Súmate argues, areas considered to lean towards the opposition would be denied the corresponding number of representatives, while pro-government areas would see their electoral power artificially boosted.

The table below lays out the data, with pro-opposition states (in red) demonstrating a dramatic drop in their population in the second column (December 2015), before returning to normal in the third column (June 2016).

Pro-government states (in yellow) meanwhile register a significant boost in the second column, before being reduced to normal levels in the third.

Population changes according to INE and CNE data, with opposition states highlighted in red and pro-government areas in yellow. (Súmate)

As a result of the population changes, Súmate notes that multiple congressional seats will be switched between towns, parishes, and constituencies.

In the state of Miranda — governed by former opposition candidate to the presidency, Henrique Capriles Radonski —towns in the second electoral district, historically regarded as an opposition stronghold, will send only one representative to Congress, while in 2010 they delivered two.

The change is justified by new INE estimates that suggest the area will suddenly lose 130,000 inhabitants between June and December, only for them to return by June 2016.

The extra seat would be appointed to the sixth electoral district, where the PSUV won in 2010. According to the new estimates, the population of this rural district is to rise significantly in the run-up to polls, only to witness a mass exodus by the middle of the following year.

No Date for Elections

Pollsters allege that the government is working with the CNE to discourage opposition supporters from voting. (Albaciudad)

The CNE is yet to announce the schedule for this year elections, and Chairperson Tibisay Lucena hasn’t offered an explanation for the delay.

Local news outlet nevertheless has insider sources confirming that the CNE is delaying the process to guarantee the effectiveness of the new electoral distribution.

While the Venezuelan Constitution requires election authorities to be unbiased, Hernán Briceño, an activist for election transparency, alleged that the CNE is trying to discourage government opponents from voting.

Félix Seijas, head of Venezuelan polling firm Delphos, believes that a weak ruling party is facing 2015’s ballot with trepidation. He suggested that the government is seeking to mobilize its hardcore supporters (under 30 percent of the electorate) to vote, and to deter opposition voters from turning out, whom he fixed at around 50 percent of voters.

The government hopes that by discrediting the CNE and damaging its impartiality, opposition supporters will be discouraged from bothering to show up at polling stations, Seijas added.

Aníbal Sánchez, coordinator of the MUD’s electoral strategy, meanwhile voiced doubts about the impartiality of the CNE. Its verification within one week of some 10.4 million signatures, collected as part of a government campaign to reject US sanctions against Venezuelan officials, marked a suspicious “record,” Sánchez noted.

A new book released in April by journalist Emili J. Blasco, US correspondent for Spanish daily ABC, claims that Maduro “stole the 2013 presidential elections” by fabricating votes with the complicity of the CNE.

Translated by Adam Dubove. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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