Venezuela’s Electoral Council Announces Presidential Campaign Rules

Tibisay Lucena, the President of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, announced the proposed rules for the December 3rd presidential campaign on Tuesday. According to these rules, the campaign officially begins next week, on Tuesday, August 1st.

Caracas, Venezuela, July 27, 2006—Tibisay Lucena, the President of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, announced the proposed rules for the December 3rd presidential campaign on Tuesday. According to these rules, the campaign officially begins next week, on Tuesday, August 1st. Opposition leaders rejected the proposed rules, saying that they did not sufficiently restrict the President’s power to campaign.

Lucena made the announcement during a weekly radio program on state radio, saying that the CNE was “looking for, in the best way possible, an equilibrium between the right of candidates to emit their messages and the use of the mass media for diffusing these.”

Lucena also explained that coming up with these rules took a long time because this is the first time in Venezuelan history that a president may be reelected. This is not including the presidential election of 2000, which was a special case, because Chavez was elected under the new constitution of 1999. He had originally been elected in 1998, under the old constitution.

The proposed regulations, which will be adopted on Friday following consultations with the presidential candidates, political parties, and with mass media outlets, stipulate that public officials cannot campaign for themselves or for others during their regular work hours or at their place of work. Also, no public funds or public buildings may be used for their campaigns.

Other restrictions include the prohibition on campaigning outside of the designated campaign period, the use of candidates’ names, images, or party symbols without their prior authorization, nor to call for abstention.

While some of these rules are similar to ones that existed during previous presidential campaigns, an important innovation is the institution of special prosecutors or campaign observers. There would be two special prosecutors (fiscales) per state, who would ensure that campaigns adhere to the campaign rules. Previously the CNE dealt with violations only after complaints had been submitted by citizens, which often meant that the issue was not dealt with until after the election was over.

Following a meeting today of the CNE directorate with directors of the private mass media, Federico Ravell, the director of the news channel Globovision, stated that the CNE “guaranteed to us that the right to inform and to opine will be preserved, that the rules will not enter into this area.”

According to the daily El Universal, Ravell, in the name of all of the private mass media declared his trust that the CNE will have clear rules about the president’s activities during the campaign period.

The opposition NGO Súmate, though, declared that the proposed campaign rules are insufficient because they do not recognize the democratic ideal that elections should be carried out under conditions of equity and transparency.

According to Súmate, the rules do not “regulate presidential transmissions via the state television channel nor the hundreds of media that are under the control of the national government, with which the candidate-President could … abuse public resources and public media, which belong to all Venezuelans.”

Venezuela has one main state TV channel, whose director the President appoints, plus a national community TV channel, and a TV channel of the National Assembly. Also, it has a 51% stake in the continent-wide satellite TV channel Telesur. In addition to this, it controls a handful of radio stations. The private mass media, which are almost entirely opposed to Chavez, consist of five major TV channels, and the vast majority of radio stations and newspapers.

Súmate also complained that the campaign regulations do not penalize public officials who pressure their employees to support the President, nor do they prohibit the President to inaugurate public works projects or to disburse public project funds during the campaign. According to Súmate, such acts are prohibited in Colombia and in Brazil.

Presidential candidate Teodoro Petkoff argued similarly, that the rules do not limit the president’s use of state media. According to Petkoff, the regulations ignore the fact that President has access to the largest network of broadcast media, the state’s media.

CNE Meets with European Ambassadors

CNE President Lucena met with a grouping of ambassadors from Europe yesterday, so as to explain to them Venezuela’s electoral system. Ambassadors from 15 of Europe’s most important countries participated in the meeting, along with a delegation from the European Union.

Lucena’s presentation covered the legal basis for Venezuela’s voting system and the functioning of voting machines. With regard to the voting machines, Lucena explained that the machines were far more reliable than manual voting because of the numerous audits that are conducted along every step of the voting process.

Lucena also reiterated the CNE’s intention to concede to some of the opposition’s demands, such as the decision not to connect the voting machines to the CNE server until after polling stations have closed and the plan to conduct a sizeable audit, of 53% to 55% of all ballot boxes. Furthermore, the CNE will open more voting centers, so that areas that used to have few voting centers would be less congested and it will invite a diversity of international elections observers.