Caracas, Venezuela, March 16, 2006—The lack of confidence of the opposition sector in the electoral process is the main problem with last December’s parliamentary elections, said the Electoral Observer Mission of the European Union. The observers released their final election report yesterday, which outlined a wide variety of areas that functioned well, those that presented problems, and recommendations for how the system could be improved.
José Silva Pineda, the head of the observer mission (EUEOM) presented the report in a press conference yesterday, where he stated, “The lack of confidence in the electoral process is the principal problem that we have observed.” He went on to explain, “All recommendations go in one direction only, in the direction of attempting to create the necessary conditions to increase the confidence of the citizens in the electoral system.”
When asked where this lack of confidence came from, according to the EUEOM’s analysis, Silva replied that it had to do with the fact that there was no real electoral campaign about political issues, but only about the trustworthiness of the electoral process.
“The electoral campaign limited itself to only one subject, which is the electoral process. There was no discussion about fiscal policies, economic policies, health policies, environmental policies, different visions of society. The only thing that was discussed was the electoral process, whether or not there was fraud,” said Silva.
Silva specified that lack of confidence is a “feeling,” implying that it might have no basis in reality. Making a parallel to people’s feelings about travel safety he said, “For example, traveling by plane is safer than traveling by car, but still there are people who are more afraid of traveling by plane than by car – it is a feeling.”
Also, when asked about their evaluation of the December elections, Silva said, “We have no doubts that the results [of the December election] are legitimate.”
A Variety of Problems and Non-Problems
The report mentions a variety of problem areas with the electoral process, such as the lack of congruence within the legal framework, where some aspects of the old electoral law are not adapted to the new constitution, thereby leaving much room for interpretation.
Also, the report criticizes the use of the so-called “twin” voting system, whereby party alliances can give disproportionate representation to stronger parties. According to the observers, this system is technically legal, but circumvents the spirit of the constitution, which says that party representation should be proportional.
According to the report, “The use of images featuring public officials for campaign purposes was widespread. The excessive resort to the use of cadenas [state broadcasts on all channels] during the campaign period was also inappropriate and did not contribute to the improvement of the political climate.”
On the key issue of whether actual votes cast could be correlated with voters’ names, as the opposition argued, the report states, “The possibility of endangerment of the secrecy of the vote was evaluated by EU EOM experts as remote. The breach of the secrecy of the vote could only be possible if the sequence of both the identification of the voters and the votes cast was reconstructed.”
With regard to the opposition parties’ boycott of the December elections, the EU observers said that they were surprised by the move, given the parties’ earlier commitment to participate.
“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 announced their participation to the process if the CNE would eliminate the use of the fingerprint capturing devices,” says the executive summary of the report.
The CNE had indeed promised that it would not use the fingerprint scanners, which were supposed to prevent double voting, but which opposition parties argued could be used to identify how people vote. The parties withdrew from the election anyway, citing distrust of the CNE as their main reason.
As for the reliability of the voting machines, the EU observer report states, “The manual audit of the voting receipts that followed the transmission of the results revealed a high reliability of the voting machines.”
However, despite this, the process itself did not contribute to defusing Venezuela’s highly polarized political climate. “The Parliamentarian Elections did not contribute to the reduction of the fracture in the Venezuelan society. In this sense, they represented a lost opportunity,” says the report.
CNE President Praises Report, Condemns Press Conference
CNE President Jorge Rodriguez expressed displeasure about how the report was presented, saying that Silva’s presentation, particularly with regard to the lack of citizen trust in the electoral process contradicted the overall relatively positive tone of the report.
According to Rodriguez, Silva told the CNE that the automated voting system is completely reliable and that there is no reason not to trust the voting system. Rodriguez referred to the section of the EU observer report which says, “the system developed in Venezuela is probably the most advanced system in the world to date.”
Rodriguez concluded that, “to say if there is or is no trust in the CNE one needs to ask Venezuelans,” suggesting that the lack of a formal survey does not permit the observer mission to make statements about a supposed lack of trust.
Rodriguez ratified that the CNE would take the report’s recommendations into serious consideration.
Among these recommendations is to create a new voter registry that is based on a modernized citizen registry, rather than have two separate registries that currently cannot be compared to one another.
Other recommendations include appointing a CNE board that enjoys the trust of broad sectors of society, elimination of the “twin” voting system that distorts proportional representation, the introduction of a data protection law, so that voter information is kept confidential, and the re-evaluation of not allowing for public campaign financing.
For the executive summary of the report and a link to the full report, see: EU Election Observation Mission Final Report on Venezuelan Elections