Playing Hardball on the CNE appointments

We hereby confer to you an official pat on the back.

The MUD has been getting a lot of flack lately for not getting things done. But the opposition alliance continues to use what little institutional maneuvering room it has to fight the good fight. Much of this flies under the radar, and it’ll never filter out into broader public attention, but at least the political junkies who read this blog should know about them.

Take the fight to appoint three main members of the CNE, the Venezuelan Elections Board. This afternoon, the National Assembly was supposed to pick the 10 civil society members who will in turn select candidates for the CNE board. Surprisingly, the result could be a CNE that, while not necessarily being decent, could at least avoid the extremes of pro-government partiality that have marked it over the last several years.

Why? Because taking advantage of divisions within the governing PSUV party, the opposition MUD National Assembly caucus brokered a smart political operation that may prevent chavismo, for the first time since who-knows-when, from just railroading die-hard partisans into the CNE board unopposed.

To understand how nifty this move was, a tiny refresher course on how CNE is made up:

The CNE is made up of 5 principal board members (Rectores), with 2 alternates each, all of whom, according to the Constitution, “must not be associated with partisan organizations.”

Their appointments technically last 7 years, and they’re replaced on a staggered schedule for the sake of administ-rative continuity. Of these 5 main members, one is nominated by universities, one by the Moral Branch (don’t ask), and three by Civil Society. It’s these last 3 (Tibisay Lucena, Sandra Oblitas and Vicente Díaz) whose terms expired in 2013, and who must therefore be replaced ASAP.

The process for nominating replacement rectores is long and boring, but the key is in the selection of a Comité de Postulaciones Electorales, a committee of electoral nominations. This committee is a mix of civil society members and legislators. It is made up of 11 Members of Parliament [5 opposition: Bernardo Guerra (AD), Elías Matta (UNT), Morel Rodríguez (AD), Juan C. Caldera (PJ) and Nirma Guarulla (MPV); and 6 chavista: Blanca Eckhout (PSUV), Orlando Zambrano (PSUV), Tito Oviedo (PSUV), Earle Herrera (PSUV), Hugbel Roa (PSUV) and Rosa León (PSUV)]. These guys must, in turn, choose 10 members of civil society, to make up the 21-member team that will select the final three rectores. The 10 members of civil society must be ratified by a 2/3 vote in the National Assembly.

Remember: chavismo doesn’t have 2/3 of the National Assembly.

Once this Comité de Postulaciones Electorales is set up, their job is to come up with the names of people who will be considered for CNE rector, and then submit a list of three candidates for every post that needs to be filled to the National Assembly. The National Assembly (AN) then picks the 3 rectores and 6 alternates from this list, who must all also be ratified by a 2/3 majority. If the AN fails to reach this 2/3 majority vote for any of the posts, the Supreme Tribunal selects the rectores.

The strategic importance of the Comité de Postulaciones Electorales depends on the effective power it has to nominate candidates for rector. In the past, the Comité de Postulaciones Electorales was just a formality, since the committee was always chosen only after the rectores had been negotiated in a smoke-filled room somewhere. That’s what happened in 2009, the last time that there was a vacancy in the CNE, and the whole process was fast-tracked by an all-chavista AN.

This time around, despite all the foot dragging by the powers that be (remember that Tibi, Sandra and Vicente’s posts ran out a year ago), the opposition has some distant chance to get some more decent appointments.

Why? Because even though the Comité de Postulaciones Electorales has a chavista majority of 6 MPs, and could therefore have selected 10 civil-society members who were all pro-revolution, the MUD MPs ruthlessly exploited the splits within the PSUV, flexed their muscle, and came up with a creative way to prevent this from happening.

Initially PSUV MPs wanted 7 chavistas and 3 oppposition citizens in the Comité de Postulaciones Electorales, and the MUD countered with a 6-4 scenario. Eventually, apparently the oppo faction, led by Primero Justicia MP Juan Carlos Caldera was responsible for brokering a deal in which 20 names, 10 chavista and 10 opposition, would be submitted to the AN, and it would be up to the plenary, NOT the preliminary commission of 6 chavista MPs, to select the final 10 members of the Comité.

Way to go, MUD MPs!

The 20 names being considered for the Nominations Committee (not for the CNE itself, remember) include none other than our Juan Nagel’s dad, maracucho historian extraordinaire Kurt Nagel. The others are:

Chavistas:

Heryck Rangel

Yenniz Arrieta

Livia Mercedes Gómez

William Roberto García

Zulay Coromoto Delgado

Bernardo Antonio Fernandez

César Augusto Sánchez

Oscar Armando Contreras

Edith María Silva

Carlos Díaz

Opposition:

Andrés Clavier

Oswaldo Morillo

Eva Gutierrez

Franklin Klepper

Reinaldo Zavarce

Francisco Alfaro

José María Cárdenas

Carlos Agostini

Francisco Bello

and Juan’s dad.

This list must be whittled down to 10 by the AN.

The key here is that the more people who are not openly affiliated with a political party made it into this list, the better, since for each faction, those who are more independent will generate less rejection by the other, and a 2/3 vote will require the least objectionable names possible.This increases our chances of getting good people like Kurt Nagel into the final ten.

Hopefully, the MUD understood this and played it smart, and so none of its 10 proposed names are openly affiliated with an opposition party. Sadly, we will have to wait and see how this strategy unfolds, since today’s AN plenary has been cancelled thanks to the PSUV Congress.

41 thoughts on “Playing Hardball on the CNE appointments

  1. Emiliana, everything sounds great, but 16 odd years suffering chavista’s tracalas have prevented me from even dream with having some sort of independent institution within the Venezuelan state. Since the Red Disease started to spread across the Venezuelan society, and especially after the 2005 parliamentary elections (were unwisely the opposition decided to oppose to chavismo by disappearing from the political scene) the rules are there to be broken or ignored (please see the Fiambre’s succession after he died) I think we will see another round of punches in the AN (literally) and then see the imposition of what Diosdado wants to be the new CNE.

    I wish I’m wrong, but we all know how this thugs work they way.

    It is interesting though to see the MUD actually playing good old politics… god! Politics is what the country needs to leave this very long nightmare behind.

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    • Sadly, I agree with you, It’s likely they’ll find a way to fill all 3 seats with die hard chavistas with simple majority, I think the rules say that if 2/3 cant be reached then it’s up to a simple majority or the tsj to choose the names.

      In this momment I can’t imagine an scenario in wich they would relax their grip on the cne, so fireworks remain very far away.

      The opposition must do everything it can tho.

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    • He would be certainly under tremendous pressure … It would be nice to see a different face approaching the infamous “baranda”

      Expect a lot of bashing from chavistas due to being called Kurt….

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    • Actually tocayo,

      Don’t get me wrong, if you are your father’s son then i wish him the best on this. But wouldn’t he become a moving target? This is Al Capone and his goons you’re dealing with after all.Except more thug than mobster.

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  2. Expect to see something like:

    “Objetamos el nombramiento de ese Sr. Kurt Nagel, cuyo hijo es un pitiyanqui apatrida. Ademas que tipo de nombre es Kurt? Esa vaina no es maracucha!!Muy imperialista!!!”

    Ja Ja!!!

    Perhaps your dad can change his name to Saturnino, or Heraclito or something………… :-)

    Seriously, I hope he makes it!!

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  3. Emiliana,
    Thanks for a very detailed, insightful account of the less known power games going on in Venezuela.

    Still, I have to say this: we need to talk openly about how screwed up the whole game is.

    I do not believe to do so will scare voters, not if we know how to explain things.

    I have analysed time after time over the CNE data, like the people of Esdata and others. The CNE records are very flawed. We have discovered obviou false data in many cases. Politicos and the like have told us those thousands here and there are not enough to revert national elections. No, they aren’t, but they are proof of cheating, not of the extent. Many of us believe there are other fake records we won’t be able to discover under present circumstances.

    It was Caldera who told Toro back in 2007 or 200 we had witnesses everywhere. It might have been so in some areas of Miranda but it definitely was not so in many regions of Venezuela.

    Things have improved since then but not as they should. We need to protect, to support witnesses, particularly outside Greater Valencia and Caracas.

    In Carabobo we had a great organiser with Scarano. He was a difficult cacique, as usual in Venezuela, but he organised thing wel in his area during election time, something we cannot say about the Feo-Salas clan.
    I believe, Scarano would have improved things in the rest of Carabobo, now he won’t. We need people like him but above all we need an open discussion about the need to coordinate forces everywhere and not in the areas we have longed secured.

    We need new faces at the top of the CNE but nothing will change unless

    1) we force more cleaning of the CNE records and
    2) many more citizens support in a more organised fashion the election process

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  4. Fantastic post Emiliana! I mentioned something similar in a previous comment about la MUD exploiting divisions within chavismo by staying united. For instance, if there’s a popular branch of chavismo who fears someone else with more money or power will cheat them, they would then actually benefit from a less overwhelmingly partisan CNE. Chavismo is a huge and very loose umbrella that’s now being controlled by guns, money and power, there must be factions within that don’t really like Diosdado’s almost dictatorial power, or that other people have more money than they do to use unfairly in a campaign and would like to play a fairer game. Those people are useful allies in something like this. “¿te preocupan los excesos de Diosadado? Pues pongamos en el CNE a un escuálido bien arrecho que no le quite los ojos de encima pero que a ustedes les garantice las reglas del juego?”

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    • Yes, this is a major flaw in our system, one that chavismo tailor-made to suit their needs. The Constitution states that CNE board must be chosen by “representatives of different sectors of society.” It makes no mention of the Tribunal, nor does the Ley Organica del Poder Electoral. However, the TSJ ruled that there is a precedent for naming CNE rectors through a simple majority in its Constitional Chamber, as it did in 2003. Their argument is that “the country must not come to a standstill if there is gridlock in the AN.” God giveth, god taketh away.

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      • This is the fatal flaw in the argument that the Oppo is going to change anything materially in the selection of CNE candidates. The AN Chavistas simply wont vote for any CNE candidate who isn’t solidly in bed with the “Robolucion”, so there wont be a 2/3 majority for anyone they don’t approve, and the CNE selection will be thrown into the TSJ, where the Chavistas have a 100% majority….

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        • Yes, but the TSJ can’t pick whomever they want, they must pick candidates from the list that the CPE gives them, by a simple majority. They can’t propose new ones. So it´s still possible that the Opposition plays a decisive role in who gets to be CNE rector.

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  5. “Remember: chavismo doesn’t have 2/3 of the National Assembly.”

    But, how was the infamous habilitante approved then if they didn’t have the 99 a.k.a. 2/3 of the assembly?

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    • 99 out of 165 was 3/5 of the National Assembly. For the CNE you need 2/3, which means 110. But hey, they might get the extra eleven they need. Stranger things have happened.

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  6. Wow! That is complicated! Thanks, Emi, for the great primer on how this works.

    Question regarding the 10 nominees for the Nominations Committee selected by Chavismo: Are they truly people not openly affiliated with the PSUV? Granted, they are people that the PSUV would consider “dependable”, but did they blatantly slip in known ringers?

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    • There are no names that jump out at me from this list, which is not to say that any of them aren’t unknown PSUV militants, but I do know that this negotiation that was brokered forced PSUV to get rid of obviously partisan choices, like, por example, Titina Azuaje, ex-Chacao candidate for mayor. It behooves both factions to have the most independent names possible, thats the beauty.

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  7. I was ging to say something about the selection process, but I’d rather shed light on a name: Francisco Alfaro is a Political Scientist, and a PhD. He recently worked on a book published by Alfa on criticisms to the electoral system. That research was promoted by the Carter Center, whose views on the Venezuelan electoral system have, well, undergone a significant change.

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  8. Emiliana, thank you for the very clear post. It actually shows why the opposition was so wrong to have left the AN in a plate to the chavistas in 2005. The chavistas may not have gotten 2/3 of the Assembly then, and maybe a more serious CNE would have been elected. I am glad that some opposition leaders are now manouvering the right way. That is the way to go…my favorite sentence these days:

    “Si del clelo te caen limones, aprende a hacer limonada”

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  9. But what is the MUD thinking about the actual nominations? I have heard a few names, a famous university professor from one of the few serious electoral NGOs and a well-known journalist and former candidate to many posts (you all know who he is!).

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  10. Emi, I wish to share in 3 points with you:
    1) Kudos for this post. Insightful and important for what’ll come next in Venezuela’s political landscape.
    2) Yes, Eva Gutierrez is Amanda’s sister.
    3) I feel that we’re eagerly optimistic about this possible outcome in favor of a more independent CNE. A few questions arise from this concern that I discern. Why then did chavismo or Venezuela’s lawmakers or its TSJ decided to let the 3 rectores from CNE up until this point, given the fact that these people arbitrated electoral processes, even after their terms expired? and even if there’s no 2/3 majority for choosing the panel (or whatever its name is) what guarantees do we have that the chavista-run TSJ will not twist the institutional procedures for choosing the 3 remaining CNE rectores and make them rojos rojitos? wishful thinking is no panacea for our “escasez de democracia” as some ingenuos MUD-folks label our country’s political system.

    Nevertheless the little things may count for something in this airplanes-less place.

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