My democratic dilemma after the death of a despot
Was Hugo Chavez a Dictator? Some argue he’s won several elections, some by landslide, so that immediately rules out such qualification. He hasn’t, unlike his idol and mentor Fidel Castro, executed any dissidents by firing squad, so maybe he’s not quite there.
Venezuelan farmer Franklin Brito protested the invasion of his property by Chavistas groups (the government calls is an “expropriation”, in the name of Revolution) by going on a hunger strike, which was not only ignored but ridiculed by the regime. Brito died in the end, so can that be called some sort of execution?
But was he a ‘champion of Democracy and social justice’, like many in the left call him? He always showed passion for the poor, and indeed introduced a number of initiatives that seemed to give them more voice in Venezuelan society. And yes, Hugo Chavez is truly loved by many Venezuelans. But what’s the cost?
The most basic principle of Democratic order is based in the independence of powers. This principle was blatantly broken during Chavez’s rule. The National Assembly is basically a rubber stamp to all his decisions, no matter how illogical. The Judiciary is also controlled by the regime, including a High Court made of 32 judges known to be Chavistas, some of them even active members of his Socialist Party.
One judge, Maria Lourdes Afiuni, is currently under house arrest after she made a ruling that went against Chavez’s wishes. Chavez also single-handedly sacked almost 30,000 employees from the national oil and gas company PDVSA for dissent. Dismissal notices were delivered via lists in national newspapers. Sacked workers were blacklisted from the industry.
So was he an autocrat, a despot and a totalitarian, sick with power and control? You bet he was!
During last October’s presidential election, which according to official results got him re-elected with almost 8m votes against 6.5m to the opposition’s candidate, the Chavez campaign team quite publicly mobilised voters, using public funds and infrastructure. They not only paid cash to voters but also paid bus drivers, motorcyclists and drivers to take people on government vehicles to polling stations. There’s no way to say whether this changed the result of the election, but it definitely influenced it.
In Venezuela, approximately 5.2 million people are economically dependent on the State. Public employees, contractors, military, welfare recipients, oil & gas workers. Voting is done electronically, using a touch-screen computer. Voters’ ID is verified using a fingerprint reader. Despite a number of audits and studies that have deemed the voting machines as ‘safe’, there are still a lot of fears that the vote might not be secret.
A model Democracy? Not likely.
Chavez passed away last week as president-elect. He was meant to swear in his new term on January 10th but did not turn up as he was in Cuba receiving Cancer treatment. Nicolas Maduro, his VP, appointed during the previous term has now been sworn in as President within the new term which Chavez never commenced, even though he is not an elected official. That is a clear breach of the Constitution which calls for the President of the National Assembly, to be caretaker whilst an election is held within 30 days.
The Constitution also says that the Vice-president can’t run for President whilst in that office, so the Supreme Court invented the “President in Charge” position so Maduro can run the government and also run for election. The Electoral Commission, also controlled by government loyalists, has now called for an election to be held on the 14th of April. Maduro is the government’s candidate, as Chavez ordered before his trip to Cuba last December. Henrique Capriles, who lost the October election, will be running again as the opposition candidate.
So all State powers are controlled, the Constitution is repeatedly violated with the approval and complicity of the judiciary, the electoral commission favours the government, public funds are used to run the campaign and 5.5 million people fear losing their jobs if they vote against Maduro, not to mention the legitimacy of the government itself is stained.
What should I do as a voter? Should I legitimise an illegal government by turning up to vote in an election called by that same government? Do I want to humiliate myself once again by voting in a process that is not fair? Why bother? How about a boycott, let them run their government themselves and wait for it to fall apart on its own inefficiency, in-fighting and ineptitude?
This is a dilemma me and many Venezuelans are now facing. People who believe in Democracy and want change in their country. People who want the world to know that Venezuela is being run by a de facto, illegal government. People who have repeatedly been abused, played with, robbed and disappointed in so many unfair elections, including one only four months ago.
My dad tells me that my vote is mine and no one else’s. Regardless of what they do with it, whether they count it or chuck it in the bin, they will know there was a vote there that went against them, and that will make an impact.
Voting in Venezuela is not compulsory and yet many will go through many troubles to exercise their right. There isn’t much enthusiasm this time because of history, but in the end, as long as we get to vote, that will be our best (and sometimes only) weapon to keep fighting for real Democracy. So in the face of my dilemma and the message I might be giving the world by turning up to vote and legitimise a fraudulent process, I will be, once again, going to vote.
What would you do?
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