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May 24, 2017 | 18:49 GMT

3 mins read

Venezuela: How Setting an Election Date Could Delay the Vote

(Stratfor)

Venezuelan leaders have finally rescheduled regional elections, but their timing clearly indicates they still intend to cling to power as long as possible. Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela's National Electoral Council, said May 23 that Venezuelan regional elections would take place Dec. 10, a year after they were initially scheduled. The Electoral Court has repeatedly delayed elections for fear that the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) would be decisively defeated. Lucena also said that the vote to elect members of the new constituent assembly, which will rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, would take place in late July. The Electoral Court is expected to hold a meeting May 25 to decide on a specific date and on other details for that vote.

That the Electoral Court is holding the election for the new constituent assembly before regional elections is notable, given that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro could use the assembly to cement his power and legally justify extending his presidential term. (If the constituent assembly's work drags on into December, the Electoral Court would have to again delay elections since it cannot hold them while the assembly is convening.) It is also possible that a new constitution would automatically reset Maduro's presidential term, as happened in Ecuador in 2009 with President Rafael Correa.

For these reasons, the decision to set a date for regional elections has not appeased the opposition, which also opposes the constituent assembly, alleging that the ruling party will use it to help itself. The fear is that most of the members of the assembly will be elected from communal councils under the ruling party's influence. But Maduro has promised that the assembly will be composed of workers, students and farmers, not of Venezuela's elite. Venezuela's opposition continues to stage massive protests, calling for general elections and for the release of political prisoners.

Meanwhile, it is possible that Venezuela's attorney general, Luisa Ortega, may also try to prevent the Venezuelan government from moving forward with the constituent assembly. Ortega, a former ally of Maduro's government, has openly criticized the government since March for its mistreatment of protesters and its dissolution of congress. In fact, according to several Stratfor sources, Ortega is preparing to investigate high-ranking Venezuelan military officials for alleged human rights abuses.

In sum, the Electoral Court's decision on a date for regional elections is not a sign that the government is trying to accommodate the opposition's demands. On the contrary, the fact that elections for a constituent assembly, which will likely strengthen Maduro's power, will take place prior to the regional elections is an indication of the government's unwillingness to accommodate opposition demands.

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