CARACAS -- Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro said the country’s four largest opposition parties will be barred from taking part in new electoral contests forever, blaming then for the low turnout in Sunday’s municipal elections.
The ban comes as the opposition boycotted the elections that they consider biased and full of cheating and illegalities by the government at the same time that the opposition and the government discuss moving Presidential elections ahead of schedule, for early 2018.
“Any party that did not partake today and called on a boycott, cannot participate ever again! They will disappear from the political map!” a visibly enraged Maduro said during an impromptu press conference at the polling station where he voted. El Nacional reported that the station, a school near the Miraflores Presidential Palace, looked deserted of voters.
To “chavistas” Maduro said: “There is no excuse not to vote!”
Even if the last two major elections in Venezuela have been marred by suspicion of fraud, Maduro said he could not understand somebody not voting.
“I can’t understand that a group of political leaders from the right having withdrawn…If they don’t want any elections, where are they going?” Maduro wondered, using on of his trademark malapropisms. “What is the alternative. Arms? War?”
Only 20% of Venezuelans chose to vote on Sunday, according to initial reports by all-news radio station Union Radio. Later in the day however, Maduro reversed himself, saying the voter turnout for Sunday’s elections had been “extraordinary” but without giving any numbers.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez took on the attributions of the CNE electoral board and, during a TV interview, ordered polling stations to remain open after 6 p.m. or until there were no more people waiting to vote.
Accion Democratica, Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular as well as several other smaller organizations are covered by Maduro’s ban. The big parties refused to participate, arguing that the present electoral system is not fair to the opposition. It is unlikely that a separate power challenges Maduro’s decision, even if the electoral law says an organization that chooses not to run cannot be blackballed from future contests.
Voters have been disheartened by the lack of respect the government has shown for their decisions, opposition leaders have said. Maduro spent all of 2016 taking powers and attributions away from the National Assembly, which the opposition won in late 2015 by a landslide, only to replace it in 2017 with a Constituent Assembly, which was fraudulently constituted, according to the opposition, the United States, the European Union and the Organization of American States.
That wasn’t the last electoral scandal this year: In a surprise development, the government claimed it won 18 states in October’s regional elections, with widespread fraud in a country where polls show that 80% of the opposition support the government.
Three days before the elections, the government shut down hundreds of voting stations where the opposition regularly won, affecting the right to vote for more than 1 million voters. Government candidates won by 900,000 votes in an election marred by irregularities. Even when the government was caught overtly cheating with computerized tallies altered after they were signed off on, the government controlled CNE electoral board has refused to change the winners.