Three Key Venezuelan Opposition Parties Declare Withdrawal from Elections

Retreating from an earlier commitement to participate in the elections, AD, Copei, and Proyecto Venezuela, three important opposition parties announced that they would not participate in the Dec. 4 elections for the National Assembly unless the Electoral Council makes major changes or postpones the vote.

Caracas, Venezuela, November 29, 2005—Two of Venezuela’s key opposition parties, Accion Democratica (AD), Copei, and Proyecto Venezuela announced today that they would not take part in the elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly on Sunday December 4. They both said this was because of a lack of trust in Venezuela’s electoral system.

For the past week, the opposition has raised questions about the secrecy of the electronic voting machines that will be used in the election. The main issue was regarding the use of fingerprint scanners. Because of these worries the Venezuelan Electoral Council, or CNE, said last night that the fingerprint scanners will not be used.

Yesterday electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) said with the removal of the scanners the voting machines were completely safe and reliable to use. An OAS spokesperson said yesterday that parties told them that, “The secrecy of the vote in this process will not be violated.”

A statement the OAS Observer Mission released today urged all parties to participate in the election. It went on to state, “The Mission wishes to express its satisfaction with the conclusions reached in the dialogue between the CNE and the political parties because it demonstrates that via permanent participation it is possible to develop a transparent and secure electoral system.”

After the OAS announcement, many opposition parties agreed to participate. Copei, a Christian democratic party, and AD, a social democratic party, decided not to. A majority of each party’s executive committee voted not to participate in the elections.

AD representatives who voted against participation said the decision was a “messy” one. They said the upcoming election is, “a trap to whip us.” They also said they did not want to repeat what happened with the Presidential recall referendum in 2004, which was a failure for the opposition.

AD is currently the largest opposition party in the National Assembly, with 23 of the 79 opposition-held seats. The coalition supporting President Chavez holds 86 out of the National Assembly’s 165 seats.

With the exit from the elections of two of the principal opposition parties, the main anti-government group now taking part is Primero Justicia (Justice First), a libertarian-conservative party. Julio Borges, Primero Justicia’s leader and presidential candidate for 2006, said he tried to convince AD to stay in the election but was unsuccessful.

If AD does not change its position before Sunday, it will be the first time in 64 years it has not run candidates in a Venezuelan election. AD and Copei controlled Venezuelan government for more than fifty years before Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998.

On November 8, the two parties, along with Primero Justicia, said they would participate in the elections. Copei leader, Cesar Perez Vivas said on November 8, “it won’t help get rid of this regime if the majority of the people take the route of abstention or rebellion.”

Today, during a press conference, Perez Vivas said that his party decided petition the National Electoral Council (CNE) to postpone the elections until the opposition’s confidence issues could be resolved. Should the CNE decide to reject Copei’s petition, Copei would boycott the vote.

According to Perez Vivas, the Copei objected to CNE President Jorge Rodriguez announcement of the non-use of fingerprint scanners because he continued to deny that the scanners could be used to identify how people voted. Rodriguez, “did not tell the truth as to why the fingerprint scanners were being withdrawn, he did not tell the truth that the system is vulnerable.” “Since there is no confidence in the arbiter, since there is no equilibrium, there is a lack of the fundamental condition for participating on the 4th of December,” said Perez Vivas.

Last week technicians from Primero Justicia said that that they were able to tell how individual voters voted, based on the sequence of the vote. That is, according to the technicians, the machines stored the sequence of the votes. CNE representatives repeatedly argued that even if true, this sequence could not be used to identify individual voters.

The right-of-center party Proyecto Venezuela (Project Venezuela) also announced today that it would also not participate in the elections. Its founder, Henrique Salas Römer, who ran for President against Chavez in 1998, said, “popular sovereignty has been mocked repeatedly and this has been admitted by the CNE itself, when it withdrew the fingerprint scanners.”

Venezuela’s Vice President, Jose Vicente Rangel, said yesterday that not taking part in the elections would be as big a mistake for the opposition as their, “participation in the coup and the sabotage of the oil industry.”

Today, Rangel added that some opposition parties’ withdrawal is because, “they do not have votes. … They know that they are defeated because they too read the surveys and know that if they participate they will have a poor representation. In contrast, those who do want to participate do it because they know that they have a good chance.”

Rangel went on to accuse the U.S. State Department of being behind the opposition parties’ withdrawals. “The hand of the state department projects itself via the North American embassy. It is a design elaborated in Washington because they cannot accept that the Chavez government advances as it has in the international arena and via the social conquests we are achieving in Venezuela.”

Five opposition parties have confirmed they are taking part. These include two that are right of center, Primero Justicia and Un Nuevo Tiempo, and three that are left of center, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Bandera Roja, and Izquierda Democratica. The left of center party Causa R said it would decide tomorrow whether it will participate.

MAS confirmed its participation today. Leopoldo Puchi, its General Secretary, said his party did not understand why the other parties were abandoning the electoral struggle, “even in difficult circumstances.” Puchi expressed support, though, of Copei’s proposal to postpone the elections.

President Chavez expressed his opinion about the withdrawal of various opposition parties this evening, saying that the reason for their withdrawal is that they do not have sufficient votes. “What fraud?” said Chavez, “Accept the truth; they do not have people… That is all it is, and now they are looking for an excuse.” Chavez added that opposition supporters should ignore their leaders’ calls for abstention and go out and vote for opposition candidates anyway.