Church and Business Decline to Help Select New Venezuelan Electoral Council

Both Venezuela's Episcopal Conference, which represents the Catholic church in Venezuela, and Fedecamaras, which represents Venezuela's largest businesses, declined to participate in the nomination process for a new electoral council.

Caracas, Venezuela – Venezuela’s business federation and the country’s highest Catholic church authority have both said they will not take part in the nomination of a new Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE). Cardinal Ubaldo Santana said, “This is an act of civilian nature and therefore civil society… has to play this role.”

Apparently neither Venezuela’s Episcopal Conference or Fedecamaras, the business federation, want to become involved in what might be the central political clash in the run up to the Presidential elections.

The CNE is responsible for running the upcoming Presidential elections in December. The 5 member board that controls the CNE is suggested by a 21 person nominations committee. Venezuela’s National Assembly appoints 10 of the committee’s 21 members. The other 11 are supposed to be chosen by civil society groups. This panel then draws up a list of possible candidates that the National Assembly finally votes for.

The CNE has been a focus of political dispute for Venezuela’s opposition for quite some time. The opposition says that the organisation and its President, Jorge Rodríguez, are biased in favor of the government.

Several of the main opposition parties dropped out of last Decembers elections for the National Assembly, saying the CNE had failed to provide reliable voting procedures. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the opposition used the CNE as an excuse to cover up for their lack of support.

Both the government and the opposition wanted the Church to participate in the process of organising the CNE for the Presidential elections because it was hoped they might be able to mediate between the two sides involved and give legitimacy to the process.

The recently appointed Cardinal and Archbishop of Caracas, Urosa Savino, said a majority of Venezuelans, “have doubts about the CNE and the electoral system, and it’s important that they have great confidence.”

The Church was unwilling to take part in creating this confidence, though, saying, “the networks and organisations” of civil society should be responsible. The President of Fedecámaras, Jose Luis Betancourt, also said, “other players should play this role.”

In 2003 there were problems with appointing the board of the CNE. The National Assembly needed a two-thirds majority to appoint a new CNE, but such a majority could not be reached in the confrontational climate at the time. Eventually the Venezuelan Supreme Court appointed the CNE board.

CNE exhorts possible presidential candidates to refrain from campaigning

On another matter CNE president Rodríguez has said the CNE will ask all of the presidential candidates not to engage in campaigning before the officially scheduled campaign begins. This is a step down from CNE director Sobella Mejías’s suggestion that an administrative investigation be made against them.

Julio Borges of the opposition party Primero Justicia, Roberto Smith of Venezuela de Primera, and President Chavez all declared their campaigns in the past month. The Venezuelan constitution says that campaigning may not start more than four months before an election. The CNE argued, though, that it cannot sanction the candidates yet because the CNE has not yet officially convoked the December presidential elections.

The CNE also made a statement saying it would punish anyone who, “discourages the exercise of the right to vote,” and non-voting. The CNE also encouraged all political organisations to, “abide by effective electoral rules regarding advertising.”