By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- The CNE electoral board has relocated more than 700,000 voters to different voting stations, without previous notification, 72 hours before the October 15th regional elections -- which the government had been expected to lose.
The Maduro-controlled CNE has been engaging in the practice since last week, but it has accelerated in the last few hours: between Wednesday and Thursday 400,000 more voters were relocated.
The anti-democratic moves by the Maduro regime prompted the U.S. State Department to warn Maduro to knock it off.
“The United States and the international community are paying close attention to this vote”, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday during a regular press conference in Washington DC. “The United States calls on the regime to hold free and fair elections” adding later that the U.S. “is concerned that a series of actions by the CNE call into question the fairness of the electoral process.”
She proceeded to describe how Maduro was not allowing independent international election monitoring, called on “the regime” to allow at least domestic observers during the vote and tabulation process and added: “We continue to support the Venezuelan people.”
Opposition leaders were busy announcing countermeasures (voters will be bused to their new centers) and putting on a brave face.
“We have vanquished them before and we will vanquish them again. Your vote is your voice and your strongest tool so that we change this reality”, opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro tweeted Thursday night.
In Miranda state, more than 200,000 voters who usually vote in 51 centers have been relocated. That’s almost 9% of Miranda’s 2.4 million-plus voters relocated between Tuesday and Thursday.
And by “relocation”, CNE usually means risking your neck to cast your vote: Those voting at the Metropolitana private university since 1989, when regional elections began in Venezuela, will have to vote now miles away, in a slum atop a hill in Petare. There, the voter will have to wait in line for several hours, in an unfamiliar, dangerous barrio.
The opposition barely took Miranda in 2012 -- and the government, in another series of tactics of widespread banning of opposition leaders, has blocked Miranda's popular governor and opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski. Miranda is only one of the three states it controls, together with Amazonas and Lara. PSUV candidates rule Venezuela’s other 20 states.
International consultants Eurasia Group said Thursday Maduro was expected to win only 5 states, with the opposition taking the rest. Local consultants Ecoanalitica said when the “relocations” started that the opposition could make off with 14 states, unless the practice continued, as it has.
Others are more optimistic: Datanalisis pollsters and news and analysis website Aporrea both say the opposition will win 21 of Venezuela’s 23 states.