On 18 April 1810, agents of the Spanish Regency arrived in the city of Caracas. After considerable political tumult, the local nobility announced an extraordinary open hearing of the cabildo (the municipal council) on 19 April. On that day, an expanded municipal government of Caracas took power in the name of Ferdinand VII, calling itself The Supreme Junta to Preserve the Rights of Ferdinand VII. The Caracas Junta called for the convention of a congress of the Venezuelan provinces which began meeting the following March, at which time the Junta dissolved itself. Francisco de Miranda was elected to the Congress and began agitating for independence.
In March 1811 during the Spanish American wars of independence, the first Venezuelan constitutional congress established the executive power a triumvirate in which three men shared executive power and rotated the presidency every week. Cristóbal Mendoza became a member of the triumvirate that headed the First Republic of Venezuela and was unanimously elected by the other two as the first to go in rotation on 5 March 1811. Mendoza was author of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence, formally issued on 5 July 1811, on which date the presidential designation also took effect. The first Constitution of the Republic of Venezuela was designed in December 1811. The Congress established a Confederation called the United States of Venezuela in the Constitution, crafted mostly by lawyer Juan Germán Roscio, that it ratified on 21 December 1811. The Constitution created a strong bicameral legislature and, as also happened in neighboring New Granada, the Congress kept the weak executive consisting of a triumvirate.
A second triumvirate followed on April 3, 1812. The presidency was disestablished in 1813, when Simon Bolivar established the Third Republic of Venezuela (1817–1819). In 1830, José Antonio Páez declared Venezuela independent from Gran Colombia and became president, taking office on January 13, 1830. Presidents of Venezuela who served under the 1864 constitution (starting with Juan Crisóstomo Falcón) bore the title of "President of the Union", instead of the usual "President of the Republic" still used today. Aside from that, all heads of state of the country since 1811 have held the title of "President of Venezuela."
El Trienio Adeco was a period in Venezuelan history from 1945 to 1948 under the government of Democratic Action, a party which gained office via the 1945 Venezuelan coup d'état against President Isaías Medina Angarita of the two-year-old Venezuelan Democratic Party. El Trienio Adeco saw the first democratic elections in Venezuelan history, beginning with the Constituent Assembly elections held in Venezuela on 27 October 1946, Democratic Action, which won 137 of the 160 seats in the Assembly. Voter turnout was 86.6%.
General elections held in Venezuela on 14 December 1947 are described as the first honest elections in Venezuela. At the time, there were 110 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 46 seats in the Senate, with Democratic Action winning a majority of both.
The 1948 Venezuelan coup d'état took place on 24 November 1948, when elected president Rómulo Gallegos was overthrown a year after his election. Democracy would not be restored until the 1958 Venezuelan coup d'état overthrew the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
A referendum on the presidential term and national and regional governors was held on 15 December 1957, resulting in the referendum's approval. Voters were asked whether they approved of President Marcos Pérez Jiménez remaining in power without fresh elections, and appointing government nominees as members of the national parliament, regional assemblies and local councils. The referendum was held under non-democratic conditions. Jiménez was overthrown the following year.
In the 7 December 1958 general elections, voter turnout was recorded at 94.4% in the presidential election and 92.1% in the Congressional elections. Democratic Action again swept the elections, winning the presidency and two majorities.
The 1998 presidential election was the first to be carried out with a new National Electoral Council. Traditionally poll workers had been provided by the parties, but in this election "a lottery was set up to draft 300,000 registered voters as poll workers". The elections also saw "the world's first automated voting system, which featured a single integrated electronic network that was supposed to transmit the results from the polling stations to central headquarters within minutes." The automated vote system enabled the Electoral Council to announce the results within 2.5 hours of the polls closing. After corroborating the results with the Carter Center, the losing candidate conceded several hours later. In the 1998 presidential elections, one of candidate Hugo Chávez's electoral promises was to organize a referendum asking the people if they wanted to convene a National Constituent Assembly. His first decree as president was thus to order such a referendum, which took place on 19 April. The electorate were asked two questions – whether a constituent assembly should be convened, and whether it should follow the mechanisms proposed by the president. The "yes" vote in response to these two question totalled 92% and 86%, respectively. The 1998 parliamentary elections were on 8 November 1998. There were 207 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 54 seats in the Senate.
Under the new Bolivarian 1999 Constitution, the legislative branch of Government in Venezuela is represented by a unicameral National Assembly. The Assembly is made up of 165 deputies (diputados), who are elected by "universal, direct, personal, and secret" vote on a national party-list proportional representation system. In addition, three deputies are returned on a state-by-state basis, and three seats were reserved for representatives of Venezuela's indigenous peoples. All deputies serve five-year terms. In 1999 a two-term limit of six years each was established for the President of Venezuela.
In 2007 the leading Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) party dissolved and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was formed as the leading government party. On 15 August 2007, PSUV founder and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed an amendment to 33 articles of Venezuela's 350-article Constitution. The proposed constitutional reforms were needed, according to Chávez, to complete the transition to a socialist republic and implement his socialist agenda. The proposal was narrowly defeated, 51 to 49 percent. In 2009 a constitutional referendum resulted in the abolishment of term limits for the offices of President of Venezuela. The 2010 parliamentary elections took place on 26 September 2010 to elect the 165 deputies to the National Assembly. Venezuelan opposition parties, which had boycotted the previous 2005 election thus allowing the MVR to gain a supermajority, participated in the election through the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD). Regional elections were held on 16 December 2012 to elect state governors and state legislators, with PSUV winning the governorships of 20 of the 23 states. Voter turnout was 53%.
Venezuela's municipal elections were delayed from their intended date of 14 April 2013 after the death of President Hugo Chávez, as a new presidential election was also assigned for that date. Winning by a narrow margin, Nicolás Maduro was sworn in as the new president on 19 April 2013. After around an eight-month delay, municipal elections on December 8, 2013 elected 337 mayors and 2,455 local councillors for their respective 2013-2017 terms. The parliamentary elections in 2015 were held on 6 December 2015 to elect the 164 deputies and three indigenous representatives of the National Assembly. The result was a decisive defeat for the ruling PSUV, which lost control of the Assembly for the first time since 1999. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won the majority of seats. A week after the 2015 parliamentary elections, the outgoing National Assembly created the "National Communal Parliament" with President Maduro stating "All power to the Communal parliament". The move was described as an attempt "to sideline and leapfrog the incoming opposition-controlled National Assembly." The process to hold a Venezuelan recall referendum to vote on recalling Maduro was started on May 2, 2016. As of July 2016, the Venezuelan government had stated that if enough signatures were collected in the second petition stage, a recall vote would be held no sooner than 2017.
Under the 1999 Constitution of Venezuela, all Venezuelans over the age of 18 have the right to vote (Article 64). Additionally, long-term resident non-nationals over 18 (resident over 10 years) have the right to vote in regional and local elections (Article 64). Article 56 specifies that everyone has "the right to be registered free of charge with the Civil Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting evidence of their biological identity, in accordance with the law."
According to the National Electoral Council, the proportion of the voting-age population on the Electoral Register has risen from 80% in 1998 to 95% in 2011, with 19m (including nearly 100,000 voters outside Venezuela) registered in 2012 compared with 12m in 2003. Voters register fingerprints and identity card details onto the Electoral Register, and these are verified during the voting process.
Venezuela elects at a national level the President of Venezuela as head of state and head of government, and a unicameral federal legislature. The President is elected for a six-year term by direct election plurality voting, and is (since the Venezuelan constitutional referendum, 2009) eligible for re-election. The National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) has 165 members (diputados), elected for five-year terms (see #Parliamentary voting system below).
Democracy in Venezuela developed during the twentieth century, with Democratic Action (founded in 1941) and its antecedents playing an important role in the early years. Democratic Action led the government during Venezuela's first democratic period (1945–1948). After an intervening decade of dictatorship (1948–1958) saw AD excluded from power, four Venezuelan presidents came from Democratic Action from the 1960s to the 1990s. This period, incorrectly called the "Fourth Republic" by Hugo Chavez and his followers, is marked by the development of the Punto Fijo Pact between the major parties (originally including the Democratic Republican Union, which later dwindled in significance), with the notable exclusion of the Communist Party of Venezuela. By the end of the 1990s, however, the now two-party system's credibility was almost nonexistent, mostly because of the corruption and poverty that Venezuelans experienced because of the debt crisis developed during the 1980s. Democratic Action's last president (Carlos Andrés Pérez) was impeached for corruption in 1993, and spent several years in prison as a result. The other main traditional party Copei, provided two Venezuelan presidents (Rafael Caldera, 1969-1974, and Luis Herrera Campins, 1979-1983).
Confidence in the traditional parties collapsed enough that the 1993 presidential elections were won by Rafael Caldera on around 30% of the vote, representing a new electoral coalition, National Convergence. By 1998, support for Democratic Action and COPEI had fallen still further, and the 1998 election was won by political outsider Hugo Chávez.
Since then, a range of newer parties (such as A New Era and Justice First) have been more prominent in opposition to Chávez than the traditional main parties Democratic Action and COPEI. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) was created in 2007, uniting a number of smaller parties supporting Chávez' Bolivarian Revolution with Chávez' Fifth Republic Movement. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD), created in 2008, unites much of the opposition. Hugo Chávez, the central figure of the Venezuelan political landscape since 1998, died in office in early 2013, and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro (initially as interim President, before narrowly winning the Venezuelan presidential election, 2013).
Since 1998 elections in Venezuela have been highly automated, and administered by a non-partisan National Electoral Council, with poll workers drafted via a lottery of registered voters. Polling places are equipped with multiple high-tech touch-screen DRE voting machines, one to a "mesa electoral", or voting "table". After the vote is cast, each machine prints out a paper ballot, or VVPAT, which is inspected by the voter and deposited in a ballot box belonging to the machine's table. The voting machines perform in a stand-alone fashion, disconnected from any network until the polls close. Voting session closure at each of the voting stations in a given polling center is determined either by the lack of further voters after the lines have emptied, or by the hour, at the discretion of the president of the voting table.
Voters register fingerprints and identity card details onto the Electoral Register, and these are verified during the voting process. Voters sign a register to confirm that they have voted, and have a finger marked with election ink.
After the polls close at any voting table, the following steps are carried out:The DRE voting machine is ordered to close the voting session.
Tally scrutinization announced.
Each voting machine prints an original tally sheet, each has a voter total and the number of votes cast for each candidate cast in that particular machine/table.
Each voting machine is connected to the network and the results are sent to the vote counting center.
Nine extra tally sheets are printed and distributed to the staff and the six representatives of the candidates that received the most votes.
With the original tally sheet in hand the total number of votes cast is compared to the signed up sheet or electoral notebook. Finally, for those machines chosen for the audit (see below) the electoral ballots, or paper trails, are counted one by one to determine if they add up to the totals in the tally sheet. Any anomaly is mentioned in the tally sheet report, signed by the staff and auditors, and then sealed and given to the military for delivery to the CNE.
Once the tally scrutinization is complete the staff proceeds to perform a random paper ballot audit of 54.31% of the machines. Each voting center can have anywhere from one to twelve voting machines, occasionally up to fifteen. The staff randomly selects the tables/machines by drawing a number out of a paper hat. The size of the draw is dependent on the number of tables/machines.
The following procedures occur step by step:Polls closed
Tally scrutinization finishes
Random paper ballot audit announced
The machines are randomly selected drawing numbers out of a paper hat
The machine's serial number is recorded
The corresponding paper ballot box is selected and opened
The paper ballots results for each candidate are openly counted
With the original tally printed from the electronic results, both results are audited
Any anomaly (even if by one vote) is recorded in the audit report
The original audit report is signed by staff and observers, officially sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE
Copies are handed over to the representatives of the two highest vote getters.
Elections for the National Assembly of Venezuela in the 2000 and the 2005 were conducted under a weak mixed member proportional system, with 60% elected in first-past-the-post voting districts and the remainder by closed party list proportional representation. This was an adaptation of the system previously used for the Venezuelan Chamber of Deputies, which had been introduced in 1993, with a 50-50 balance between voting districts and party lists, and deputies per state proportional to population, but with a minimum of three deputies per state.
For the 2010 election, the Ley Orgánica de Procesos Electorales (LOPE) (Basic law of electoral process) among other changes reduced the party list proportion to 30%. In addition, the law completely separated the district vote and the party list votes, creating a mixed member majoritarian system. Previously, parties winning nominal district seats had had these subtracted from the total won under the proportional party list, which had encouraged parties to game the system by creating separate parties for the party list. Under the new law, in 2009, electoral districts were redefined in a way that has been accused of favouring the PSUV, particularly in giving more weight to votes in the countryside over those in the city.
There are regular presidential elections in Venezuela. The President of Venezuela is elected for a six-year term by direct election plurality voting, and is eligible for unlimited re-election. One of the first "honest" presidential elections in Venezuela was held in 1947, with Rómulo Gallegos of Democratic Action receiving 74.3% of the vote. The next elections were held in 1958 and won by Rómulo Betancourt of Democratic Action, who received 49.2% of the vote. With voter turnout reported to be 92.3%, in the 1963 presidential elections Raúl Leoni of Democratic Action won with 32.8% of the vote. In the subsequent 1968 elections, Rafael Caldera of Copei (the Social Christian Party of Venezuela) won with 29.1% of the vote, although Democratic Action remained the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. The following elections the presidential seat returned to Democratic Action, with Carlos Andrés Pérez receiving 48.7% of the vote in a voter turnout of 96.5%.
The 1978 elections were won by Luis Herrera Campins of Copei with 46.6% of the vote. Jaime Lusinchi of Democratic Action won with 58.4% of the vote in 1983, with voter turnout at 87.3%. Carlos Andrés Pérez won a second time in 1988 with 52.9% of the vote, and a voter turnout of 81.9% in the presidential election. Former president Rafael Caldera, newly associated with National Convergence, won with 30.5% of the vote in 1993. The voter turnout in 1993 was 60.2%, the lowest since World War II. After being imprisoned for an attempted coup and then pardoned by Caldera, Hugo Chávez founded the Fifth Republic Movement and was elected president of Venezuela in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000.
A recall referendum in 2004 was voted on by the populace to determine whether Chávez should be recalled from office, resulting in no recall (58% no). The authenticity of the results became a point of contention.
Chavez won again in 2006 with over 60% of the votes, and in 2009 a constitutional referendum resulted in the abolishment of term limits for the offices of President of Venezuela. Since 1999 there had been a two-term limit. Chavez won again in the October 2012 presidential election.
Venezuela is a federal state; Venezuelan states have governors, which have been elected since 1989 (previously they were appointed by the President). Regional and local elections were introduced following the work in the 1980s of the Commission for the Reform of the State (Comisión para la Reforma del Estado, COPRE).
Most recent elections:parliamentary: Venezuelan parliamentary election, 2015
regional: Venezuelan regional elections, 2012
presidential: Venezuelan presidential election, 2013