Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday (7 October) to elect their president. In total there are seven candidates from president. However the main choice is between the incumbent Hugo Chavez, backed by a coalition of progressive and left aligned parties and social movements, and Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor with strong ties to the country's elite and backed by a number of right-wing parties, who have formed a unity coalition known as the M.U.D.
VENEZUELA’S ELECTIONS – CERTIFIED AS FREE AND FAIR
This will be Venezuela's 15th set of national elections since Hugo Chavez was elected President in 1999. That is more sets of elections than took place in the 40 years prior to Hugo Chávez becoming President.It is also one of the highest number of elections held in any country in the world in that time. All have been declared free and fair including by international bodies such as the EU and Organisation of American States (OAS).In September 2012 former US President Jimmy Carter said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Hugo Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”.Of the previous Presidential election, held in 2006, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza recently said: “we had no objection. It was fair” and that Venezuela “has a strong electoral system that is technically very good.”The Report of the EU Observer Mission to the 2006 Venezuelan presidential election stated that it was overall conducted “in respect of national laws and international standards,” with “a high turnout, and peaceful atmosphere”.This scrutiny of Venezuela’s election processes will continue at the coming Presidential election with 200 international witnesses, including from the Union of South American Nations (representing all 12 South American countries which vary significantly in their political composition, from Ecuador to Brazil to Colombia).
Venezuela’s elections are overseen by the National Electoral Council, an independent branch of state similar to the UK Electoral Commission.
The trust in this institution has been so great that earlier this year Venezuela's main right-wing opposition coalition, the M.U.D, organised for it to conduct its Presidential primaries. The M.U.D Executive Secretary described the CNE's role in this selection as "an excellent indication of the democratic institutions in the country".
Previously in July 2011, the right-wing party Voluntad Popular held internal elections with support from the CNE in which Leopoldo López was chosen as National Coordinator. López – who is currently the campaign manager for Presidential candidate Henry Capriles Rodonski - expressed his appreciation for the CNE’s role.
HIGH LEVELS OF PARTICIPATION
As a result of the CNE’s efforts to register people and to make voting easier, Venezuela has had unprecedented rates of voter turnout in recent years. Three quarters of voters went to the polls in the 2006 presidential elections and a record 66% voted in the 2010 Parliamentary elections.
Record numbers are now registered to vote – up from 11 million in 1998 to 19 million today. Over 96% of Venezuelans are now registered to vote, whereas as many as 20% of the electorate were left off the list in the past.
Access to polling stations is also greater than ever before, with there number increasing from 8,000 to 14,000 in the past decade. This has tackled a past problem whereby ballot boxes were often not accessible to those in the poorest areas, where most of the population lives.
A SECURE AND TRANSPARENT PROCESS
Venezuela uses some of the most secure and advanced voting technology for its elections. Venezuela’s electronic voting system is 100% auditable with 17 audits carried out and involving all the political parties at each stage.
On the day of voting, the electronic voting machines are activated only when a fingerprint that corresponds to the voter’s ID number in the database is registered. This system prevents fraudulent behaviour such as double voting and identity theft. There is also a clear separation in the voting between the systems that identifies the voter and another where the voter casts their ballot. Additionally, the machines print a paper receipt that can be checked by the individual voter and allows for a full manual count to be made if any results are contested. A manual count of more than half of the votes automatically takes place to ensure that the results tally.
In August 2012, Jennifer McCoy, director at the prestigious Carter Centre, described Venezuela's electronic voting system as “the most comprehensive that...I've seen in the world”.
Of the post-electoral audits she said it had “never had any significant discrepancy between the paper receipts and the electronic votes.” 
The Venezuelan public had an opportunity to scrutinise the election procedures in nationwide test-run on 2 September that reviewed the electoral machinery and technology. About 1.8 million voters, around 10% of the electorate, participated in this test with the Executive Secretary of the right-wing opposition M.U.D coalition confirming that that voting in Venezuela is secret and secure.
POLLS SHOW STRONG LEAD FOR CHAVEZ
Polls indicate a clear win for Hugo Chávez as the most likely outcome. The average of the 18 polls conducted in September gave Hugo Chavez a 12% lead. Many polls also show president approval rates of over 60%.
In August 2012, the Japanese finance organisation, Nomura Holding published a client analysis stating that Hugo Chavez has a “large lead” against Henrique Capriles Radonski which they found “unlikely to be closed ...before the October 7 election”. Likewise a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report earlier this year described “President Chavez's commanding lead in the polls and high level of electoral support”.
This poll lead is undoubtedly linked to Venezuela’s expanding economy, which is growing at 6% per year, as well as new social policies which address the ongoing needs of Venezuela’s poor majority. For example in the past year alone 250,000 new social houses have been built, state pensions made available for all and the minimum wage increased by 30%. These follow the policies that have successfully delivered free healthcare and education for all,slashing poverty rates in recent years.
RIGHT-WING COALITION TO REJECT RESULTS IF THEY LOSE ELECTION?
In light of the aforementioned substantial poll leads for Hugo Chávez, there are growing fears that sections of the right-wing coalition are preparing to reject the results should Venezuelans choose to re-elect President Chavez in October.
For example, Ricardo Haussmann, a key Capriles economic adviser, recently said his campaign will employ 200,000 people at the polling stations so that they can declare their own results to the world before the official announcement is made by Venezuela's independent National Electoral Council (CNE). The intention is clear: to discredit the official results and claim fraud.
As Eleazar Diza Rangel, editor of Venezuela's main national newspaper Ultimas Noticias – which is broadly sympathetic to the anti-Chávez opposition - recently explained the purpose of attempts "to claim fraud at the coming presidential elections of 7 October [would be] in order not to recognise the people's will".
A smear campaign against the independent National Electoral Council (CNE) also appears underway. For example, on August 21, head of the opposition campaign Leopold Lopez announced that the opposition would take action against alleged “risks” that he claimed the state poses to the votes. But even whilst making the claim of “bias” Lopez admitted that "In all the processes that have been done in the past there has not been a single indication that there is no guarantee that the vote is secret".
Others in the Venezuelan opposition are not supporting the tactic of preparing to cry fraud and smearing the CNE. For example Enrique Marquez MP, vice-President of the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo, said on 5 September that Venezuela’s voting system " offers no danger to the confidentiality of the vote."
UNDERMINING THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE
Rejecting the legitimate election results in the face of a Hugo Chavez victory would be totally consistent with how sections of the Venezuelan right have previously resorted to undemocratic means. Most well known is the short-lived coup against the democratically-elected Chavez government in 2002 which abolished democracy altogether until it was overturned by popular demonstrations. In 2003, they unleashed a 64-day oil industry lock-out that saw GDP collapse by a third with the declared aim of ousting President Chavez. They then claimed fraud at the 2004 recall referendum on whether Hugo Chávez would continue as President, which he won 58% to 42%. The opposition promised to provide evidence but eight years on they are yet to do so. Then faced with certain defeat, they decided to boycott the 2005 parliamentary elections at the last minute, seeking to undermine the results, a move opposed by the Organisation of American States.
Since then opposition has sought to use the democratic process to remove Hugo Chavez. In doing so it has accepted the National Electoral Council (CNE) results that saw its presidential candidate Henry Capriles Radonski elected as a state governor, Hugo Chávez's proposed constitutional changes narrowly defeated in a referendum in 2007 and dozens of governors, mayors and MPs from parties of the right elected.
But faced with Hugo Chávez winning another six year term, some in the opposition seem set on resorting to the old ways of ignoring the will of the people.
As is normal in any democracy there is an open and vibrant election process underway with both main candidates regularly organising rallies, visiting towns, doing interviews and daily press conferences.
Whatever views are held of the Chávez-led government, its democratic mandate is without doubt. There is certainly no evidence from previous elections of fraud or manipulation. Jimmy Carter has described Venezuela’s electoral system as amongst the “best in the world.”
Any doubt about the impartiality of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) in overseeing free elections is easily dismissed by the fact that right-wing coalition have recently asked for it to oversee their own internal selections. It is not serious for it to endorse the CNE as a legitimate electoral authority in February and denounce it in October.
The truth is that any opposition attempt to cry fraud is really about covering up its own political unpopularity as the polls show.
Any such manoeuvres to undermine the real outcome need to be widely condemned. It is the right of the Venezuelan people to freely determine who their next president is. Their will must be upheld and respected