Hugo Chavez's Electoral Reforms

by Forrest Barnum // Published August 7, 2009
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently compelled the Venezuelan National Assembly to alter the nation's electoral laws. Previously, 60% of seats in the National Assembly were elected from single and multi member districts by plurality vote while the remaining 40% were chosen from proportional party lists. Now, the ratio will be respectively 70% and 30%. Critics have rightly alleged these changes make the electoral system less proportional and less fair. Smaller parties will be negatively affected by these changes; more votes will be required to win a lesser number of list seats.

Additionally, there was another change: the National Electoral Council was empowered to redraw district boundaries. Many are fearful this is a prelude to a gerrymandering spree by ruling party and a further limiting of opposition prospects. President Chavez and his supporters have claimed the changes stem from a desire to better represent the 'majority will,' which has supposedly been stunted under the current arraignment. A cursory glance at recent election results underlines the spuriousness of this argument; in the 2005 National Assembly elections, Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement won 114 of the 168 seats up for election. Shortly after his successful reelection effort in 2006, President Chavez merged the Fifth Republic Movement with several smaller parties in an effort to create a what he termed a 'unified Bolivarian party.' This new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, has 139 seats in the National Assembly. If the largest party has 84% percent of the seats in a given legislature, it does not reflect a lack of majority representation.

President Chavez is frequently portrayed as a socialist martinet, blinded by his ambition to remake Venezuela into a model citizen of an outmoded utopian past. Others strongly defend his reforms, suggesting the real culprits are the twin evils of American imperialism and unrestricted capitalism. The truth likely lies between these polarized extremes, but Chavez's attempts to undermine Venezuelan democracy do nothing to burnish his credentials as a man of the people.