Attempted recall referendum

On January 26, Venezuela’s electoral authority initiated the process to hold a recall referendum of de-facto president Nicolás Maduro. Under Venezuela’s constitution, the right to hold a recall referendum of an elected official can be invoked halfway through their term; as Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in an election marred by widespread irregularities, January marked the halfway point for his second presidential term. However, the process was compromised from the beginning, after the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced on January 21 that the initial gathering of signatures for the recall referendum would take place in an extremely limited 12-hour time frame only five days later, during which it would have been practically impossible to collect the minimum number of signatures to move the process along. After the CNE unveiled these provisions, WOLA joined a group of 61 Venezuelan organizations in denouncing this effort to limit the constitutional right to hold a recall referendum, as well as efforts by the Maduro government to intimidate those who chose to participate in the process.

Ultimately, the CNE reported that only 42,421 signatures were collected—far short of the threshold of 4.2 million signatures, representative of 20 percent of Venezuela’s voting population, required to move the recall referendum process to the next stage. The signature collection process was marked by intimidation by pro-government public officials, and militarized collection sites, contributing to the low turnout. As a recall referendum can only be held once per term, the next chance to vote Maduro out of office will be in presidential elections in 2024.

Barinas elections

On January 9, opposition candidate Sergio Garrido won in a historic repeat election in the state of Barinas following national mayoral and gubernatorial elections on November 21, 2021. While the November regional elections saw pro government candidates win most gubernatorial races, the opposition won in the states of Zulia, Cojedes, and Nueva Esparta. Furthermore, opposition candidate Freddy Superlano won by a slim margin of 0.4 percent in Barinas against pro-government candidate Argenis Chávez, the incumbent governor and brother of late president Hugo Chávez. But Superlano’s candidacy was then retroactively disqualified by the government-aligned Supreme Court, which called for a repeat election in January. Superlano’s disqualification was widely denounced by international organizations including the Carter Center, which documented irregularities in the November elections in its preliminary report after accompanying the process.

In the January special election, which did not have the same level of international observation as the initial elections in November, and was marked by a heightened military presence in the state, Sergio Garrido of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática won by a much larger margin—garnering 55.36 percent of the vote, with pro-government candidate Jorge Arreaza far behind with 41.27 percent. Before Venezuela’s electoral authority even announced the final results, Arreaza, Maduro’s former Foreign Minister, admitted defeat on social media. The process constituted an unexpected victory for the opposition in a historically Chavista state, where the governorship has been occupied by members of the Chávez family since 1998. WOLA published an episode of The Venezuela Briefing podcast, in which electoral expert Eugenio Martínez breaks down the results and implications of the historic election.

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Criminal Violence