Venezuelan Political Prisoners Crack 10 Days of Hunger Strike

López y Ceballos llevan más de una semana en huelga de hambre (La Lechosa)
López and Ceballos have now spent over a week on hunger strike. (La Lechosa)

EspañolMonday, June 1, marked 10 days on hunger strike for Daniel Ceballos, while his neighbor in the Ramo Verde military prison, Leopoldo López, reached the same milestone Tuesday morning.

Their demands remain the same, and are yet to be met. Both continue to be political prisoners, alongside dozens of other dissidents; the government continues to persecute the opposition; and the administration of President Nicolás Maduro is still yet to announce a date for parliamentary elections due to take place this year.

“Alert! Daniel Ceballos has spent 10 days on hunger strike, Nicolás Maduro: respond to our request now!”

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has failed to explain why it has not set a date, beyond indicating that polls will take place in the final quarter of 2015. As a result, Ceballos and López have been joined by other opposition leaders outside of prison on hunger strike.

Elections are due to see over 1,000 candidates contest the 167 seats of the National Assembly, but the opposition fears that the government is seeking to delay or even unconstitutionally suspend the ballot.

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski argued that the delay in setting a date is due to the fact that the government “is not ruling out the possibility of suspending them.”

Capriles, current governor of Miranda State, has criticized the performance of Venezuela’s electoral arbiter, branding top CNE official Tibisay Lucena the “commander in chief of abstention in Venezuela.” According to opinion polls, the opposition is set to win the elections and triumph over the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

“Will Ms. Lucena, chief of abstention, respect the country and the people and set an election day?”

In recent Venezuelan electoral history, the CNE has never failed to announce the date of parliamentary elections less than six months in advance.

On Monday, June 1, Public Ombudsman Tarek William Saab told press that polls will be held in late November or early December, following conversations with Lucena. Saab explained the delay in the announcement to “technical adjustments.” The CNE chief is yet to confirm Saab’s comments.

Francisco Castro, director of the NGO Súmate, told the PanAm Post that the CNE hopes to time the announcement of elections in order to benefit the ruling party.

“The CNE generated all of this uncertainty. We need only remember when it called parliamentary elections in advance in 2010, or when it delayed by several years calling mayoral elections, or when in October 2012 it called presidential elections due to political calculations about the illness of President Chávez. The CNE has made all of these political calculations only to benefit the PSUV,” Castro argued.

The NGO director explained that parliamentary polls involve a complex chronology of filing thousands of candidacies for the 169 positions in Venezuela’s national assemblies. Adding to the intricacy is the fact that voting is done by individual voting in some instances and party shortlists in others, while candidates must also be nominated for three seats reserved for representatives of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples.

Castro added that anything less than six months of preparation prior to polling day would only reduce the ability of candidates to register, curtail campaigning periods, and diminish the time available for scrutiny of votes cast, thus weakening the elections as a whole.

“There are no technical justifications or reasons of force majeure to delay the announcement of election day,” he argued.

Elections of Convenience?

The civil-rights expert added that the CNE is apparently failing to act as an impartial electoral referee, instead “playing with the PSUV to demoralize the population so they don’t turn out to vote.”

Castro: “El CNE juega a favor del Gobierno de Maduro” (La Vanguardia)

The Council is aiming to give as much political breathing space as possible to the government, and has delayed announcing the date “because the PSUV is weak in the polls.”

Castro explained that if Capriles’s fears of a suspension of elections were to take place, this would violate the Constitution, which establishes that parliamentary polls should be held every five years. As such, the new parliament should begin session on January 5 of the following year.

The Súmate director argued that any suspension of national polls would confirm the existence of a constitutional coup in Venezuela.

He also denounced existing irregularities, such as the CNE allegedly manipulating the process of registration for new voters. The CNE has, he claimed, installed mobile registration booths in Chavista strongholds, and “hidden in various ways the registration points in other geographical areas.”

In addition, the authorities recently modified population growth estimates, and thus the relative voting weight of multiple districts in the country.

PSUV-voting districts show a population explosion in time for December, and thus are allocated more representatives, while areas that traditionally favor the opposition see their population dramatically reduced. Both discrepancies are then revised to trend levels by June 2016.

PSUV Falling in Polls

According to a study carried out by the Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB) in conjunction with Venezuela Electoral Integrity Project, support for the PSUV is now a minority position, while distrust in the CNE has risen.

A poll of 1,200 people suggests that 42.8 percent of the public identifies with the opposition, while only 31.8 percent support the ruling party.

The study similarly shows that the majority of voters strongly distrust the president, his party, and the CNE.

Some 60 percent of those polled didn’t trust in the electoral arbiter or its officials, agreeing with the statements that the CNE could electronically change the results, “steal votes,” and skew the results through techniques such as “duplicate identity numbers, dead voters, and foreigners with false ID cards.”

Furthermore, the poll demonstrates the opposition leads in the upcoming election with 39.2 percent of the vote, leaving the government with a mere 15.5 percent. The remaining percentage is divided among those who say they are unlikely to vote or are undecided.

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