WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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7 Sep 2023 | Commentary

EXPLAINER: What Happened With the Key Electoral Body in Venezuela and Why Does it Matter?

For a country that has endured an authoritarian government and a long-standing political crisis, each opportunity for a peaceful and democratic solution is valuable and should be carefully considered. The presidential election of 2024, as well as the regional, local and legislative elections of 2025, are important opportunities for the transformation of the current situation in Venezuela. Unlike other countries, Venezuela has five branches of government; one of them is the Electoral Power and its head is the National Electoral Council or CNE. The CNE is responsible for overseeing elections and upholding the Constitution in these proceedings.

For years, the CNE was packed with pro-government members. In 2021, the inclusion of two opposition members contributed to making the institution more balanced. However, that CNE was recently dismantled. Last June, most of the CNE members resigned before their term ended. On August 24, the National Assembly designated the new members of the electoral body, but there are deep concerns around its composition and the lack of guarantees for free and fair elections. Below, we answer four questions that can help understand what is happening with the CNE and the upcoming elections in Venezuela.


  • Why was a new National Electoral Council appointed? 

On June 15, 2023, six pro-government members of the CNE resigned from their positions five years before their term expired and did not provide a clear explanation for it. This happened only four months ahead of the opposition primaries, a process designed to select a unitary candidate to oppose the ruling party’s candidate. The National Assembly, dominated by Maduro’s party, accepted these resignations immediately, even though some opposition members had not resigned. Just days later, CNE members of the opposition Roberto Picón and Enrique Márquez stood down. These resignations and the following steps taken by the National Assembly, were irregular and were denounced as such by WOLA and five other international organizations. What happened also forced the National Commission of Primaries, in charge of organizing the opposition primary elections, to do this without the technical support of the CNE.

Another important question to answer is how the new members of the CNE were appointed. According to the Organic Law on the Electoral Power, the procedure has a fixed set of stages and contemplates a period of time within which citizens can oppose the nomination of a member of the CNE. The Electoral Nominations Committee must respond to those concerns. However, in this most recent process, this was not observed and the appointment was done ahead of time. Moreover, the final list of the people nominated to the CNE was not published, which contributed to a lack of transparency in the process and the inability for Venezuelans to reject the nominees. It is also worth noting that this is the 11th CNE appointed in 24 years of chavismo.


  • Who are the new members of the CNE?

Following negotiations between the government and some sectors of the opposition, the CNE ended up with a composition of 3 pro-government and 2  members with ties to the opposition. This is already irregular in and of itself. According to the Constitution, the members of the electoral power should be impartial and independent and a valid reason for removal is membership of a political party. Acknowledging these contradictions, here is a list of the CNE members with the position they hold, whether they are sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Treasury Department, and other relevant notes.


Name Position in the CNE U.S. Sanctioned under Executive Order 13692 issued by the OFAC Notes
Principle members
Elvis Amoroso President, member of the Electoral National Board. X Was the General National Comptroller up until his appointment to the CNE. He is responsible for the political disqualification of several opposition candidates, including María Corina Machado and Freddy Superlano. 
Carlos Quintero Vice President, member of the Electoral National Board. X He is an Army Chief and he has been a part of the CNE since 2014. He has served as substitute member and as General Director of IT at this electoral body. 
Rosalba Gil Member of the Electoral and Civil Registry Commission. Secretary of the 2020 National Assembly, member of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) and acted as General Consul of Venezuela in Boston, U.S.
Aimé Nogal Member of the Funding and Political Participation Commission. Until recently was a  member of the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT).
Juan Carlos Delpino Member of the Electoral and Civil Registry Commission. He has been a member of the CNE in the past. Pointed out for having connections with the party Acción Democrática.
Substitute members
Antonieta De Stefano Member of the PSUV.
Tulio Ramírez Has been in the CNE since 2020. He is a tenured university professor and he was nominated  by the Foro Cívico.
Ana Julia Niño Lawyer and tenured university professor. 
Leonel Parica Member of the Electoral and Civil Registry Commission. He has been a substitute member of the CNE in the past. He has held public offices.
Gustavo Vizcaino X He has been a substitute member of the CNE in the past. Current director of the Administrative Service of Identification and Migration (SAIME).
Francisco Garcés He has been a substitute member of the CNE in the past. He has held public offices.
Conrado Pérez Briceño Member of the Electoral National Board. He has been a substitute member of the CNE in the past. His son, Conrado Pérez Linares, has been sanctioned by the OFAC. Pérez Linares was expelled from the opposition party Primero Justicia for allegedly participating in acts of corruption.
Aura Hernández She has held public offices and is a member of the PSUV.
Imad Saab Saab Member of the Funding and Political Participation Commission. Former ambassador of Venezuela in Syria. He is a National Assembly representative for the PSUV.
Fabio Zavarse X Major General of the GNB, allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity and repression against protesters in 2014 and 2017. He is mentioned in the 2020 Report of the International Independent Fact Finding Mission established by the UN Human Rights Council.


  • What do elections have to do with negotiations?

Although negotiations were due to restart in Mexico, they have not formally been held since 2022. However it is no secret that there have been ongoing talks behind the scenes between members of the government and the opposition. Also, the Biden Administration continues to explore the possibility of providing sanctions relief on the condition that the Maduro regime “takes concrete actions towards restoring democracy, leading to free and fair elections”. If Maduro wants the U.S. to lift sanctions and to gain international recognition, he knows that elections need to be legitimate. 

It is in this context that the appointment of the new CNE took place. The composition of the CNE was not the result of a procedure established by law, but rather a political decision. Despite the irregularities mentioned, this CNE has the power to adopt measures to improve electoral conditions and provide guarantees. This, in turn, could contribute to moving the negotiations forward, including the possibility of sanctions relief.

Venezuela needs free and fair elections and needs Venezuelans to actively exercise their political rights, and it is possible and right to advocate for this while at the same time being clear about what constitutes an abuse of power.


  • What needs to be done for the upcoming elections to be free and fair?

The set of 23 recommendations made by the Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union in 2021 provides a good roadmap to how Venezuela could hold free and fair elections. The need to take concrete steps to fulfill those recommendations was also included in the public statement made by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the international summit on Venezuela in April 2023. 

It would be naive to think that the conditions of the upcoming elections will be ideal, especially in the current context of political disqualifications, persecution of human rights defenders, threats and violence against opposition candidates, and judicial interventions of political parties and civil associations. However, the CNE plays a key role and could take important steps to guarantee certain conditions and protect Venezuela’s right to vote. Among the many necessary steps that the Venezuelan government would need to take to work towards the country’s democratization, these are some that should be prioritized:

  • Abolish the Comptroller General prerogative to disqualify people from exercising their right to run for public offices in elections, through administrative proceedings. 
  • Publish clear, transparent and timely information about the electoral processes.
  • Balance the state-owned media coverage during electoral campaigns, in line with the Organic Law on Electoral Processes
  • Open the Electoral Registry permanently and in more locations, so that citizens can update their information and ease access to voter registration. It is key that rural communities and towns located far away from the main cities can also have access to the Electoral Registry.
  • Provide more options for Venezuelan voters living abroad to update their information and exercise their right to vote in their respective countries.
  • Allow for international electoral observation and amend the legal framework to guarantee observers freedom of movement and expression, ensuring that they can carry out their duties without unreasonable obstacles.
  • Emphasize the civilian nature of elections and ensure that the military forces adhere to their duties without exceeding their competences.


Opportunities still lay ahead

Although the human rights situation in Venezuela is dire and there are deep concerns about the electoral conditions, the 2024 and 2025 elections could represent an opportunity for civil society and political parties to mobilize and unite towards a common goal. Democracy is not just built at the level of institutions, it is a part of the social fabric that needs to be carefully woven at the local and community level. Elections are moments to exercise democracy at its core, to create connections with marginalized groups and territories that have been historically forgotten, and to connect to people’s urgent needs in the context of a humanitarian emergency. The CNE has in its hands the ability to take steps towards free and fair elections. Let us hope it uses its power judiciously. At the same time, the international community has a crucial role to play in supporting democratization efforts in Venezuela.


For more information listen to our podcast: Venezuela: ‘The Way out of This Situation Has to be Through a Democratic and Peaceful Solution’