Robin Alexander, second from right
In Venezuela for the Election, I Learned a Lesson in Democracy
By Robin Alexander
Beaver County Blue via UE News
I had the opportunity to accompany* the presidential election in Venezuela as part of a delegation of 245 members of government, election commissions, journalists, professors, judges and representatives of women’s, human rights, and other NGOs from across the world.** As our election approaches and I have watched with outrage the efforts by the Republican Party to limit access and the right to vote here in Pennsylvania and a variety of other states, I find myself wishing that our system here in the US was as fair and democratic as that in Venezuela.
Elections are held on Sundays to make it easier for working people to vote. A major outreach effort has resulted in the registration of 96.5% of eligible voters. Although voting is not compulsory, 81% of the population voted in the last election. Sophisticated technology is used to eliminate all possibilities of fraud or manipulation of data. In addition, the voting machines issue a receipt that can be viewed by the voter to confirm that his or her vote has been properly registered. These papers are then placed by the voters in more traditional ballot boxes and, after the polls close, an astounding 54% of those boxes are counted manually to ensure that the final tape from the voting machine is correct.
The election was hard fought, but Hugo Chávez was re-elected with an 11% margin and the process was so unquestionably democratic that the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, conceded defeat gracefully, stating “The will of the people is sacred.”
Although the outcome was a surprise to many in the United States, improvements in the well-being of poor and working class Venezuelans go far to explain the results: Chávez supporters told me that the minimum wage had increased 32% in 2012, about the new labor law that reduced the work week, increased and expanded coverage of social security, prohibited sub-contracting, made it more difficult to discharge workers, increased penalties for unjustified discharge, and more than doubled the length of maternity leave. Extreme poverty has been cut by more than 70 percent and GDP has more than doubled, while unemployment has dropped below 8 percent. Free health care and education have been greatly expanded, new housing has been built for hundreds of thousands of poor people, there is a more equitable distribution of land, and in the new police academy created to address the problem of corruption students learn about human rights. Afro-decendants and indigenous peoples are protected under the constitution, and Chávez’ five-point electoral platform included social and economic development plans and stressed the importance of national sovereignty, regional integration, world peace, and preserving life on the planet. woman with slip that indicates where voter goes to vote Slip indicates where voter must go to vote
Chávez’ opponents were equally forceful in expressing their opinions, generally pointing to inflation and crime, saying that Chávez had been in office too long and that it was time for a change, and that most of his programs benefited poor people to the detriment of the middle class.
The election was presented as a choice between two paths for Venezuela’s future, and the Venezuelan people turned out in overwhelming numbers and voted by a decisive margin for Chávez. As working people, we have much to learn from both the democratic electoral process and from the policies implemented by his government. Accompaniment
*In Venezuela, a separate branch of government oversees elections. Venezuelans are proud of the way elections are conducted, and view accompaniment as a horizontal process in which international accompaniers travel to polling places throughout the country and are free to move about, observe, and ask questions. Following the election, we were asked to prepare reports based on our observations, and to include any recommendations for improvement.
**I was invited to participate by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG).