National Electoral Council to Write Recall Referendum Question

Opposition organization Sumate accused of fraud. Opposition coalition files complaint with OAS Secretary General.

The president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), Francisco Carrasquero, announced yesterday that it is the responsibility of the council to formulate the recall referendum question. This has many opposition leaders worried, who are currently actively campaigning for a “yes” vote on the referendum that the question might be formulated in such a way that “yes” means President Chávez remains in office and a “no” vote is a vote against Chávez. Carrasquero, however, said that the electoral law “stipulates that the CNE will formulate the questions and the formats of referenda. Those who take the initiative to petition for a referendum must respect the conditions established by the CNE; the CNE does not accommodate itself to the conditions of the petitioners.”

The a draft of the rules governing recall referenda have already been written and are now being reviewed by the political parties and lawyers who advise the CNE for feedback. Carrasquero says that by tomorrow, Wednesday, the rules will be approved.

Sumate accused of fraud

Oscar Battaglini, a CNE member who was nominated by Chávez supporters, declared that the organization Sumate, which had organized the February petition drive for the recall referendum and whose petitions were declared invalid last week, cannot participate in a recall petition drive as long as it does not register as an organization of civil society, in accordance with Venezuelan law. It has been unclear until now whether Sumate is a private company or a non-profit organization, since it has not registered as a political organizatin, nor has it disclosed its funding sources. Registering the organization, however, is said to take up to six months, which would mean that it would be excluded from the opposition’s plans to organize a new petition drive for October 5th.

The pro-Chávez political party Fatherland for All (PPT) has filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, saying that Sumate has engaged in fraud with the signatures it submitted last August 20th because, according to PPT general secretary José Albornoz, most of the box that supposedly contained 3.2 million signatures were photocopies and not original signatures.

Opposition Coalition files complaint with OAS General Secretary

The CNE decision of last Friday, which declared the petition Sumate submitted on August 20th as invalid, has caused representatives of the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator (CD) to send a letter of complaint to OAS General Secretary Cesar Gaviria. According to CD representatives Timoteo Zambrano and Asdrúbal Aguilar, the CNE decision violated Venezuela’s constitution, international law, and the agreement which Gaviria helped negotiate between government and opposition last April. One of their main arguments is that article 26 of Venezuela’s constitution guarantees that justice is above formalisms of the law. In other words, the collection of signatures before the right to a presidential recall referendum becomes effective, at the half-way point of the term, is a mere formality and should not interfere with the desire of 3.2 million Venezuelans for a recall referendum.

Some information from El Nacional, Ultimas Noticias and other sources were used in this news piece.