EU Election Observation Mission Final Report on Venezuelan Elections

In response to an invitation from the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), and in a spirit of partnership and co-operation, after the signing of an MoU, the EU deployed an Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) consisting of over 160 observers. The following are the main findings of the mission.

Executive Summary

In response to an invitation from the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), and in a spirit of partnership and co-operation, after the signing of an MoU, the EU deployed an Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) consisting of over 160 observers. The EU EOM focused its observation activities on the National Assembly Elections. The following are the main findings of the mission:

Venezuelan legislation clearly provides for democratic elections. However, the legal framework is confused with inconsistencies between the new provisions introduced by the 1999 Constitution and pre-existing electoral legislation.

The CNE is an institution with considerable human and technical resources. It technically administered the process well, and its logistical preparations for the electoral event were acceptable. However, its performance was overshadowed by accusations by the opposition of bias and partisanship.

The overriding feature of the pre-election period was an absence of confidence on the part of wide sectors of the society in the electoral process and in the independence of the CNE. In particular, opposition parties questioned the manner in which members of the current provisional CNE Steering Board had been appointed to their positions.

The electoral campaign was very limited, the debate on political party platforms was almost absent and was characterized by an excessive attention of the media on the issue of mistrust in the CNE.

The party duplication technique known as Las Morochas, although technically allowed by the law, is in contradiction with the spirit of the proportionality principle as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The pro-abstention campaign conducted by various sections of the opposition had a significant impact on public opinion. The circulation of a computerized list of citizens indicating their political preference in the signature recollection process for the 2004 Referendum (so-called Programa Maisanta) also played into the hands of the abstention movement by enhancing fears that the secrecy and freedom of the vote was at risk.

In the election preparations, the CNE demonstrated a clear willingness to meet the demands of the opposition in order to increase confidence in the process. Among the main steps taken to reduce the opposition concerns over the automated voting process, the CNE increased the number of polling stations to be audited from an initial 33% to 45% and eliminated the use of the electronic voter lists.

The principle of automated voting is clearly enshrined in the legal framework. However, the current development and applications of the automated voting process have surpassed the law in various aspects.

The discovery of a design flaw in the software of the voting machines, with the consequent remote possibility to violate the secrecy of the vote was dealt with by the CNE in a timely and adequate manner with the elimination of the fingerprint capturing devices. For this reason, the EU EOM took note with surprise of the withdrawal of the majority of the opposition parties only four days before the elections. The withdrawal took place after those parties had previously announcedtheir participation to the process if the CNE would eliminate the use of the fingerprint capturing devices.

The Registro Electoral Permanente (REP) was the source of continuous debate and concerns over alleged illegitimate entries. The CNE decision of not disclosing the addresses of the citizens registered to vote on data protection grounds did not contribute to resolve the issue. The recurrence and the nature of the allegations against the REP highlighted the need for a reform of the civil and voter registration system.

Most of the media monitored showed some kind of bias towards either of the two main party coalitions. The media reflected and fed into the polarisation of the country.

The political information present in the monitored outlets was ideologically diverse, but usually contained a highly emotional charge which is incompatible with the journalistic principles of impartiality and balance.

The use of images featuring public officials for campaign purposes was widespread. The excessive resort to the use of cadenas during the campaign period was also inappropriate and did not contribute to the improvement of the political climate. The CNE efforts to limit the use of this mechanism during the campaign were opportune and must be further encouraged.

Election Day in itself passed peacefully with a low turnout. Prior to the polls, isolated incidents attributed by the Government to the abstention movement, disturbed an overall calm environment. Although the CNE’s logistical preparations were satisfactory, the observers noted a number of irregularities, such as intervention of officials to assist voters, breaches of polling procedures and election campaign activities outside the polling stations.

A large number of voters also had problems in understanding the functioning of the voting machines, often causing queues outside the polling centres. The assistance provided by polling station staff to voters raised concerns about the possible violation of the secrecy of the vote.

The manual audit of the voting receipts that followed the transmission of the results revealed a high reliability of the voting machines.

The transmission and aggregation of the results was fast and accurate. The activities that could be observed at the data processing centre in Caracas were secure and efficient, although the layout of the processing centre was not the most adequate for the observation and visualization of the process.

The Parliamentarian Elections did not contribute to the reduction of the fracture in the Venezuelan society. In this sense, they represented a lost opportunity. In order to recompose this fracture, a more constructive and mature effort is required by all political forces.

Specific recommendations are detailed in Chapter 13 of this report.

For full report see: FINAL REPORT (PDF file)

or: http://www.eueomvenezuela.org