Enrique Márquez is seated behind his wooden desk in an ordinary, average civil servant’s office, in which the bathroom door has been damaged. “It would be sexier to be on the street celebrating the fall of a dictator, but this is the way we have,” explains Márquez, one of the two opponents that Chavismo has integrated into the National Electoral Committee (CNE) and has granted the vice presidency. The body has organized the regional elections this Sunday, a litmus test to see if President Nicolás Maduro is willing to embrace the electoral route as a way out of the country’s crisis. Márquez, as part of the opposition, believes that Venezuela must rebuild the institutions that make democracy possible and restore confidence in the vote, which is currently non-existent, to citizens. Although that, Márquez insists, is not as heroic as a revolution.
Question. With the regional elections, does the Venezuelan government rehearse a political opening to decompress the pressure?
Answer. It certainly is. The mission is technically very robust, it looks very difficult to alter any results. Recently there was a very important audit that was not done by CNE personnel, but by a group of academics. It lasted a month and there was a complete inspection of the voting machine and the entire system, transmitted in streaming. It was very successful. They speak of a reliable, robust, secure system. We have done 18 other audits before, including the biometric system, and we created the CNE fingerprint bank. Multiple voting is not possible. The system protects the vote.
P. The credibility of the electoral institution of which you are vice president is badly damaged in Venezuela.
R. That is why we have endeavored to make the audit transparent. That people can see the system. You cannot cheat.
P. The criticism has been focused on the political decisions that comprise the process, which all seem to seek to favor Chavismo.
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R. The other decision that was made was international observation (the EU, UN and the Carter center). There was no electoral observation mission in the country since 2006. The CNE did not request it. In 2012, he even denied the request. That change is positive. That does not mean that everything is fine, there are many things that are wrong. The Electoral Registry was also audited again, which still has flaws, of course.
P. What are the most important pending issues to be resolved?
R. There are some issues that are attributed to the CNE, but for the moment we cannot fix. The issue of the parties and their prosecution by the Superior Court of Justice, which has intervened with the parties and their directives, something on which I totally disagree. In addition to those of the Opposition – AD, Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular – there are 11 parties allied to Chavismo intervened by the TSJ. The Venezuelan parties are not democratic, they do not have internal elections. There must be an institutional agreement to promote this with the TSJ. The other stain of the current institutionality are the disqualifications by administrative means. Our Constitution provides for political disqualification as an accessory penalty in a judicial sentence, but at this time the comptroller’s office does not grant the indicated candidates the right to defense. The political will of the State is required. It is planned to solve this problem at the negotiating table in Mexico (confrontation between the government and the opposition).
P. Isn’t defending an electoral scenario so dominated by Chavismo a risk for a political leader like you, a lifelong opponent?
R. Of course, yes, although in Venezuela the winds of change are blowing in society, which has been discovered almost on a suicidal path and has slowed down towards self-destruction. I vindicate the role that businessmen (less politicized and more pragmatic) have decided to play. Also the Catholic Church and the turn of the most important opposition parties, returning to a very difficult route, but indispensable as it is the political route. Less sexy, of course. When I made the decision to be here, I put all my political capital into cultivating a path that I consider is the only one the country has: tolerating us, living together in a democracy. For there to be democracy we have to rebuild the institutions that allow democracy to exist.
P.Does a part of the opposition think that with these concessions you are helping to wash the face of an illegitimate government.
R. I have been told everything. I have never been part of any government, neither before nor now. That is not to say that all of us who oppose the government should have a revolutionary mindset. My mindset is reformist. I absolutely believe that it is possible to build a path of reforms that will lead us to a more stable, happier, more prosperous area. What has us here have been the errors of the political class; all, chavista and opposition.
P. What do you aspire to as rector of the CNE in the next elections?
R. Mutual recognition of political factors. That the election is so transparent and that the loser accepts it. The loser is the one who builds democracy when he recognizes.
P. Have you thought that there may be factions in Chavismo with much more power determined to prevent those reforms of which you speak?
R. Our democracy is very weak and perhaps one of the least perfect.
P. Could it be that it is not a democracy?
R. There are possibilities of rescuing our democracy, even in this situation. I perceive that there is a willingness to advance in agreements. It is a wish, for that I work every day, that everyone accepts the electoral results that are approaching in these elections. I would expect a good turnout; In this type of consultation, the average participation in the country is historically 55 or 60 percent.
P. The campaign is very uneven. The Chavistas have all the apparatus and the opponents don’t. For example, the state of La Guaira is full of publicity for the official candidates, there are no others.
R. There are no resources. There is an issue of funds that is also another thing that could not be done and that is also the debt of democracy. Public financing is essential because it is what generates some balances. For example, in other countries the contracting of spots to television channels or radio stations is done by the electoral power, and pays for them to ensure that everyone has spots. In Venezuela this is an important problem that must also be solved in the future. It is a country with a significant democratic deficit.
P. Has there been cheating by Chavismo during the campaign?
R. Yes there are and there are many open investigations. Yesterday, for example, I had to denounce the president of the Republic (Maduro), we opened an investigation against him and his candidate in Caracas, Mrs. Meléndez, because the president makes a political act of the State, of the Government, inaugurating a water tank. The CNE should have the power to sanction immediately, but it does not. It is not a sin only of Chavismo. Yesterday I went through Chacao because I went to eat a little fish and the mayor was there (Caracas municipality) with some patrols, inaugurating some motorcycles. You look at the color of the patrols and it is the color of Fuerza Vecinal (their party). I called him and said: “Mayor, what is that pod?” The abuse is cultural. What has to happen so that it does not follow that? There must be a law that regulates reelection. First, I would eliminate it, these lands are not made for that. If I can’t eliminate it, I regulate it.
P. What else has to be resolved at the Mexican negotiating table?
R. The issue of parties, disqualifications and the issue of the Supreme Court of Justice. Then, the CNE will take care of very interesting things. I have three thousand elections to do, union. It is not just holding the presidential election, it is that society has been losing democratic culture, it does not believe in voting. It is the fault of the political class. And I also want to hold the internal elections of the parties, which do not exist right now.
P. What do you expect to be positive about these regional elections?
R. In general terms, the election will leave a good balance. If the European Union and the UN experts can present their report, can make it public and that everything good and bad can be said and known to the world, it is an excellent balance. It will be something positive for Venezuelan politics because in Venezuela it seems that there is no politics.
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