Friday, November 26, 2021 3:04 pm
By Owei Lakemfa
IT is not difficult to understand why Venezuelans aspire to be peaceful, pacifist and committed to nature. They have an enchanting country blessed by nature. They seem to have it all: an inviting nature, spell-binding mountains, irresistible forests, calm-looking seas, a patch of desert, enormous natural resources and fine weather.
Countries like these, as testified to by the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, are like sugar that must attract ants. The powerful and the greedy will not leave such countries in peace. It is usually, a situation of a house owner refusing to allow floods to sweep away his home.
The capital, Caracas, and the adjoining areas are beautifully carved into a sleepy valley watched over by partner mountains and forests. Last Friday, November 19, 2021, I went over 2,500 feet up the mountain, of course not on foot, but cable car. The area is called Waraira Repano. At the top, the misty mountain rapidly descends to kiss the Caribbean Sea. It is a resort with eateries, relaxation spots and the Hotel Humboldt built in 1956.
The elections I had gone to observe which had 70,244 candidates, was therapeutic; it was the first time in five years the country has come together or agreed on a single issue. The last half-decade had witnessed bitter disputes, including on the re-election of President Nicholas Maduro in 2018.
The opposition had gained majority seats and the power-drunk Senate president, backed by powerful countries led by the United States had, in vain, declared himself President. Also in the period, there was an attempt to assassinate President Maduro, an attempted coup, a failed invasion and open opposition calls for sanctions against the country.
The success of the Sunday, November 21, 2021 elections was not the number of seats won or lost, but the fact that all parties and groups participated in the elections. So the elections in a sense were an assertion of Venezuela’s sovereignty; Venezuelans right to self-determination and to decide who governs them.
It was also unique that from the reports of foreign observers across the country, including 70 of us from Africa, the rallies were peaceful and carnival-like, and the elections so transparent that as I write, there have been no disputes or protests on its outcome. In a sense, although the elections excluded the presidential, they were nevertheless, a referendum on the Maduro presidency.
In my pre-election analysis, I had thought the ruling Socialist United Party of Venezuela, PSUV, would have an easy victory. This was partly because while it did direct primaries and presented a single candidate for each position, the opposition had become less united and presented multiple candidates.
The party also made a song of its social programmes such as building 3,800,000 housing units which it had distributed free. But the elections with 41.80 per cent voter turnout and 50 per cent women candidates, were not without their surprises.
For instance, while the PSUV won 20 of the 23 three gubernatorial seats, it sustained quite some losses in the mayoral elections. This meant that community matters and the personality of individual candidates were decisive issues.
The PSUV won Tachira State which it had lost to the opposition but lost the strategic state of Zulea, the biggest state in the country. It also lost its traditional stronghold of Cojedes; the first time in 20 years since the Hugo Chavez revolution. This may be an indication that it had become complacent in that state, or presented an unpopular candidate. However, it won Caracas.
Also, the politics of election observation played out. The Maduro government, confident of its electoral strength and the transparent electronic voting and collation process, was anxious to attract international observers. But it was not a straightforward process; not a few in the world were afraid of American displeasure should they participate in such a process.
Some institutions, including from Nigeria, tactically declined. But one of the most ridiculous excuses was by the African Union, AU. Its Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki, wrote that the AU could not accept the invitation because it does not monitor elections outside Africa.
In this instance, the AU suffered institutional memory loss. It must have forgotten that just in 2018, it sent a delegation led by Ambassador Arikana Chambori-Qqua to monitor the elections in same Venezuela.
Also, some observers might have been discouraged by poor flight connections mainly due to American sanctions. For example, those of us from Nigeria spent an average of two days getting to Caracas. There was in fact a Nigerian observer who had to fly from Abuja to Lagos, then to Turkey, Mexico and Cuba to get to Caracas.
A direct flight from Istanbul to Caracas alone takes 10.40 hours; it is a 10,069- kilometre distance. Ordinarily, Nigeria is less than seven hours flight from Caracas; Dakar, five hours and Cape Verde, four hours.
An institution that sent a large delegation to this week’s elections was the European Union. It presented its official report at a press conference on Monday. In the absence of the AU, the African delegates got together to present a common report. Professor Philip Afaha of the University of Abuja who presented the African report affirmed that the elections were peaceful, transparent and credible.
He added: “Current events in the world have shown that democracy is not perfect anywhere. Powerful countries, especially those of the global North, must always show restraint and encourage developing countries to nurture their democracies in line with their domestic realities and aspirations. The Venezuelan people have spoken through this election and the world must respect their views and dignity.”
Venezuelans are primarily Catholics with a very strong attachment to the Church. So I was curious why elections would hold on a Sunday. I was told that many are self-employed who have to work through the week, but go to church and rest on Sundays.
So that they may not sustain needless economic losses in the name of elections, these are held on Sundays more so when Catholic mass is usually short and the electorate can easily combine attending mass and participating in elections. In contrast, Nigeria will not dare hold elections on Friday when Muslims attend Jumat or on Sunday when Christians go to church.
I also witnessed Venezuelans taking their under-aged children to political rallies and polling stations. It is a good way of bringing up children to understand their civic duties. But in Nigeria, due to fears of violence, it would be unthinkable for parents to take their children to such places.
Venezuelans have a lot to learn from the world just as we also should learn from it, but will the powerful allow or tolerate such a process? Today’s world is intolerant of the pacifists.
*Owei Lakemfa, journalist, labour and human rights activist, writes from Abuja