Election Observers Submit First Reports on Venezuelan Presidential Election

The Observer Missions of the OAS and EU submitted their first preliminary reports, which certified that the December 3rd presidential election occurred within a framework of “general normality” and transparency.

By Gregory Wilpert - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Caracas, December 15, 2006 ( venezuelanalysis.com )— The Electoral Observer Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) submitted its first preliminary report on Wednesday, which certified that the December 3rd presidential election occurred within a framework of “general normality” and transparency. Other observer reports that have already been submitted with similar results were those of the European Union and the Venezuelan NGO Ojo Electoral (Electoral Eye).

President Hugo Chavez won reelection to Venezuela’s presidency, for a second full six-year term on December 3rd with 62.9% of the vote, to the 36.9% obtained by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales. Rosales conceded defeat to Chavez on election night, surprising many observers who had expected him to claim fraud had been committed.

The OAS had stationed 60 electoral observers throughout the country, while Ojo Electoral had 337 observers, and the EU had stationed 154 observers. The other main electoral observer group was from the Carter Center, which sent only a small technical commission to observer the vote counting process. It has not yet released a report on its findings.

Massive Turn-out

All three reports highlighted the high turnout of 75%, which OAS electoral mission Chief Juan Fischer called, “a high percentage of citizen participation, considering that in Venezuela the vote is not mandatory.”

Similarly, the Ojo Electoral report, which was released the day after the elections, stated, “The abstention rate that was registered was the lowest in recent history. There was massive voting and the election day proceeded with normalcy and efficiency, with few incidents.”

The preliminary European Union report, which was released two days after the election, said, “The high turnout in the Presidential Elections, and the peaceful environment in which they were held, together with the candidates’ acceptance of results, open the way forward to improvements in the confidence that the general public has in the electoral processes.”

Fingerprint Scanners

Each of the reports did highlight the slightly problematic role of the fingerprint scanners in the elections process. Fischer, of the OAS, said that the scanners, which are designed to prevent voters from voting more than once, need to be explained to the public better, “to allay suspicions and fears that the identity of the voter could be made known.” On this point, Fischer noted that the auditors of the process determined that “this system is not capable of associating the voter with his or her vote,” which eliminates the possibility of compromising the secrecy of the ballot.

The preliminary EU report raised similar issues, stating, “The use of fingerprint readers (captahuellas) neither violates the secrecy of the vote, nor is a source of fraud. On the other hand, they are not directly relevant in the exercise of the right to vote; furthermore, they are not nor trusted by a significant part of the electorate, and in certain cases, they led to unnecessary queuing during Election Day.”

Campaign

A more serious criticism that the two international observer groups raised had to do with the campaign and its financing. According to Fischer, the OAS recommends, “an appropriate and systematic updating of the electoral law in its diverse aspects, including control of activities, and control and financing of campaigns.”

The EU report states that it observed, “persistent problems during the campaign, such as the widespread institutional propaganda in favor of the President, and candidate, Hugo Chavez, and, to a far lesser extent, in favor of the Governor of the State of Zulia, and candidate, Manuel Rosales.”

The EU report went on to criticize that the media were largely partial to one campaign or the other, with state media favoring coverage of the Chavez campaign and private media favoring the coverage of the Rosales campaign.

Also, even though the CNE announced on several occasions that it was investigating campaign abuses, the EU report bemoaned that the CNE was largely unable to prevent campaign abuses during the campaign.

Electronic Voting

However, with regard to the security and transparency of the voting process itself, all three groups, OAS, EU, and Ojo Electoral ratified the transparency of the voting technology that was used.

According to the OAS report, it was particularly valuable that international observers and witnesses from various candidates participated in the counting process, so that “Their presence contributed the process more transparent and allowed to provide more confidence in the development of the electoral act.”

The EU report was even more direct, stating, “The electronic voting system established in Venezuela is efficient, secure, and auditable, and the competence of its technical experts is consistent with its advanced technological level.”

A few days prior to the vote José Virtuoso of Ojo Electoral had encouraged all citizens to vote because, “The conditions for the secret of the vote have been set up and I believe that we can vote tranquilly knowing that the vote is secret and that the popular will cannot be altered.”

U.S. and Canada Resist Congratulating Chavez

According to the AP, a proposed OAS resolution congratulating Chavez for his reelection was rejected by the U.S. and Canada earlier this week. All other OAS countries, represented by the groups ALADI (South America plus Mexico), GRULAC (Latin America and the Caribbean), and the CARICOM (Caribbean countries) supported the motion, reported AP.

However, following several hours of intense negotiations, the U.S. and Canadian delegations conceded and agreed to a resolution that explicitly congratulated Chavez on his reelection.

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