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Opinion and Analysis: Politics

CNE Head Tibisay Lucena's Speech: Venezuela's Voting System

The following are the words of Tibisay Lucena, President of the Electoral Power, during the 2013 Presidential Proclamation Ceremony on April 15.

Yesterday’s event constitutes a solid test, of the democratic kind that Venezuela has committed to as the model of social coexistence. It is possible to express manifestly divergent political positions, by means of public consultation, through the vote, without the need for violence to impose itself as a way of resolving conflict.

An immense number of citizens voted, and they expressed themselves freely through a system, which we have built to guarantee that this expression enjoys the necessary security and safeguards against any aggression.  

The electoral system worked perfectly and as planned. The whole country bears witness to the speed with which the voting process took place. But equally, everyone must take pride in the fact that, differently to other electoral processes where we used to spend the first few hours dealing with contingencies normally associated with the start of the process, on this occasion we only had to attend to few and mostly minor events, with no grave consequences to be regretted.

Our electoral system is strong because its results demonstrate how a ballot, which is supervised and audited to the utmost by the political organizations involved, provides no room for doubt. The results are born in legitimacy, through the permanent revision of the system and this is a value acknowledged by all parts in the country.

I do not want to leave out defending our civil servants, since they are the ones who make it possible for this system, recognized both here and across the world, to be a truthful and efficient tool of participatory and active democracy.

It is avowedly contradictory to highlight the technical strength of the system, as though it were some kind of isolated and ethereal construct, which could function with no human contact whatsoever, in a process as undeniably human as an election.

We are thousands of people and civil servants of this Electoral Power, 80 thousand operators, more than 140 thousand polling booth members, along with Plan República personnel, who work all through the electoral process in the wake of elections; men and women who tirelessly, and in response to any behest of the Republic, get the technical apparatus moving, give it life and make it safe, trustworthy and transparent. It is not a machine with a will of its own, nor does it amount to an algorithm which works by itself. We are people who organize elections, who guarantee the vote, who audit, display, verify and ensure the perfect working of an electoral system to match a democracy as demanding as that of Venezuela.

We are those people who are attacked, insulted, threatened, who serve the table for those who engage in politics. We are people, Venezuelans alike all others. As a result, we also have the right to be respected.

As such, we demand respect from all those who have attacked our staff, both here in our headquarters and in our regional offices. Some have been laid siege to, and our co-workers have been tormented by violence.

It is with great pride and great satisfaction that I must once more take this moment to thank the men and women of the Electoral Power for their dedication, and the unending commitment they have towards the democracy of this country and which has ensured that, even in our country's challenging moments, they have known how to guarantee the electoral processes which have been summoned.

Respect for the Electoral arbiter is in itself respect for Democracy, for the Constitution, for the Law. How can we live together in a society if that same arbiter, which certifies a victory acknowledged yesterday, in the context of another event, overseen by the same people and mechanisms, now becomes the focus of attacks, stemming from the purest form of irrationality, which seeks to reject the Rule of Law?

Electoral results in a democracy are not the product of a consensus. They are the product of wills, of the sovereign will of the people, of voters, which once quantified express the majority. To qualify this majority as either large or narrow is not under the remit of this Electoral Power. Our function is to count the votes cast in a secure way, and total these likewise, so that once the process is complete, we can announce who has the majority. The discussion regarding its quality is part of the political debate, and it is not our role to settle it.

It has to be said that polarization is not synonymous with confrontation, and the divergence of visions regarding the country equally implies the discussion as to what kind of society we want to have. We must therefore point out the enormous responsibility that the candidates who took part in this election have, in light of the large turnout registered during the event.

Venezuela remembers how we have gone through even more trying times than these. Ever since the year 2000, we have had electoral events marked by political tension, where we strode through elections and consultation referenda in an atmosphere of heightened social conflict. We even encountered a coup d’état and overcame it, to the benefit of our democracy. This intense period began to settle around 2006, through a series of electoral processes for the election of different offices by popular vote, where some won and others lost, sometimes with ample margins, at others with narrower results. Therefore, our invitation is for no-one to forget that our country is a champion of democracy, which in the face of demanding moments of history, has shown its strength throughout these years.

It is the country where democracy is most alive and vibrant on the American continent, as acknowledged today. It is then up to the leaders to exercise their leadership to live up to this democracy, to live up to this people, as a champion of democracy. It is the role of the Great to lead the people, in a way that always strives for its welfare and seeks peace for all. The serenity of this country lies in respect for the Constitution and the Law.

President-elect, you have a great responsibility at this historical juncture, following the unfortunate circumstances which led to this election being called, but especially after the situation which has arisen once the results were announced.

Candidate Capriles has, since last night, announced demands on this Electoral Power and has not acknowledged the results announced by this body. That is his decision. But in Venezuela there is a Rule of Law in place, which must be respected. Differences as to the statements issued by the electoral body have their legal course and, as such, the candidate must appeal to the relevant authorities.

Among the demands he has announced in the media, is what he has called the “recount of votes”, through the manual counting of 100 per cent of voting tickets, contained in the safety boxes, by means of which a return to manual counting –with its demonstrated vulnerability– is sought; a practice, which wounded the will of voters in Venezuela for decades.

Venezuelans know that the vote in our country is automated and that the voting tickets are simply a means for verifying the perfect functioning of the system, so that the voter can confirm her or his vote was registered in the voting system identically to the option shown on the screen of the machine. Votes in Venezuela amount to data registered in the memory of the machines and the tickets only fulfil the function of a receipt.

Citizen verification, which is carried out with the voting tickets, takes place with a statistical portion considered excessive in any part of the world. 54 per cent of safety boxes were audited, but 14 audits were equally carried out before and during the process, so that, in the event of any matter which, according to any of the parties involved, should be contested, the legal avenues for doing so are right there.

Bullying, threats or intimidation are not the way to appeal against actions by the Electoral Power. The Constitution and the Law are the only routes respected by true democrats.

I would like to take this opportunity to categorically reject the statements made by the State Department and by the Secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS). These are acts of interference, which seek to undermine national sovereignty. And they blatantly disregard our internal legal regulations. When in the year 2000, presidential candidate Al Gore sought a recount of his votes, he neither came to an agreement with Bush, his challenger, nor did he do so through televised addresses. Mr Gore appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Florida, in keeping with US Law, of which I am certain these spokespersons are respectful.

We are convinced that in Venezuela debate can take place in peace. That, even when the country’s political masses have contrasting projects, the will of our people will always be for peace, the will of our people who with a clear and strong voice expressed itself yesterday. And, even amid disagreement, the highest value of Venezuelan society will always be the ability to see in others who think differently, the face of a Venezuelan brother or sister. Thank you very much.

Translated by George Azariah-Moreno, CNE International Relations Department