By Kejal Vyas | Wall Street Journal
CARACAS—Brazilian authorities said Tuesday they have pulled out of a South American mission to observe Venezuela’s hotly contested legislative elections because Venezuela rejected the Brazilian official named to lead the group.
For months, Brazil’s top electoral authority said it was trying to organize a delegation of the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, but reached an impasse as Venezuela vetoed Nelson Jobim, a former Brazilian defense minister and judge, from heading the mission despite broad support from the rest of the 12-member regional body.
Brazil’s announcement is a setback for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, which has counted on the support of its neighboring ally through more than two years of political turmoil. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva endorsed Mr. Maduro’s presidential bid in 2013, and after deadly antigovernment protests swept Venezuela last year, Brazil helped broker talks between Mr. Maduro and his opponents.
Mr. Maduro has publicly refused to allow international monitors—aside from Unasur—from observing the Dec. 6 parliamentary vote. Polls suggest that his United Socialist Party of Venezuela could lose its majority control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years as voters struggle with a devastating economic crisis, marked by triple-digit inflation and chronic food shortages.
Venezuela’s lack of response “did not allow the mission to accompany the auditing of the electronic voting system, nor start assessing the fairness of the electoral contest, which, less than two months from the election, prevents a fair observation,” Brazil’s independent electoral board said, explaining its decision to withdraw from the process.
It added that it had proposed Mr. Jobim as mission leader because of his vast experience with election processes. A former head of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal, Mr. Jobim served as a Supreme Court justice under two ideologically opposed governments. He also served as defense minister under former President Lula da Silva, a close leftist ally of Venezuela.
Without Brazil’s backing, it is unclear what kind of Unasur participation, if any, there will be in the coming Venezuelan vote. In recent years, Venezuela’s government has scaled back the use of international election monitors, permitting only so-called “accompaniment” missions that have limited access to voting data.
“Silently and through the shadows, the Maduro government vetoed to impede the mission,” Venezuelan opposition leader Jose Torrealba said in a statement. “When they said ‘We’d only accept Unasur observers’ they weren’t even really referring to the regional body, but instead an Unasur constructed for electoral interests.”
Venezuela’s Information Ministry and National Electoral Council did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Mr. Maduro said during an Oct. 1 televised address that he wanted Jimmy Carter to serve as an election observer, five months after the former U.S. president’s pro-democracy organization, the Carter Center, closed its election observation office in Caracas after 13 years in the country.
“Hopefully President Carter and the Carter Center come to see our social processes, our processes of change,” Mr. Maduro said.
Mr. Torrealba, the opposition leader, congratulated the Brazilian electoral body for its “democratic honesty.”
“Through this extraordinary gesture, the Dec. 6 election will be held in a new international climate with all of the hemisphere’s eyes scrutinizing what happens here,” Mr. Torrealba said.