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Venezuela's democracy: The last chance?

By Veneconomy

28.10.04 - Only a week ago, the polls were predicting a record low turnout for this Sunday October 31. There was even talk of a turnout as low as 40% or even 30%. This result was reflected in the perception of many Venezuelans – opposition and government supporters – who saw no point in voting because they believed their vote would have no value in elections that are widely seen as rigged.

However during last week, a significant switch seems to have taken place in people’s minds, and now many say they will be voting.

This about-face is due to a combination of factors. Among others, the leaders of both sides have been out convincing people to vote, the bishops have added their voice, and the parties have organized an active drive to mobilize their supporters.

More important, perhaps, is that citizens are realizing that what is at stake this Sunday is not the fate of their preferred candidates but Venezuelan democracy itself.

Whoever stays at home on Election Day is not just leaving the way open for the government candidate, but is opening the way for the extinction of democracy. The time has come for citizens to defend their democratic rights. The people opposed to an autocratic regime have to vote massively and actively, demanding respect for their rights under the Constitution and the law. Even if everyone votes, the signs are that next week the regime will expand its presence in state and local governments around the country.

What is more important in the medium and long run is that November 1 will mark the handover of the baton to the next generation of leaders. It will be the start of a long effort to rebuild a democratic and coherent opposition, which will only be possible if Venezuelans from both sides turn out this Sunday.

The forfeit is Venezuelan democracy.

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