Pro-Government Petition Drive against Opposition Legislators Launches with Long Lines

The petition drive to call for the recall referenda against opposition legislators started on Friday with an enormous turn-out, which was stymied by the lack of materials, which caused long lines and much frustration. Government and opposition supporters blamed each other for the problems.

The Pro-Government petition drive to call for recall referenda against legislators belonging to opposition parties launched to a mixed success. On the one hand, government supporters formed long lines outside of signature collection locales in order to sign the official petition forms. On the other hand, the all-important petition forms never made it to most locales until late in the first day of the petition process.

According to rules established by Venezuela’s National Electoral Commission (CNE), a petition drive process to call for a recall referendum can last only four days. Previously, the CNE established that from November 21 to 24 government supporters would organize a petition drive that would call for recall referenda against opposition legislators. November 28 to December 1 was reserved for the opposition to organize a petition drive to call for a recall referendum against President Chavez. If organizers of the petition drives collect signatures of over 20% of the voters, then a recall referendum must be held within four months of turning in the signatures.

The failure of the signature collection locales to open on time was attributed by government supporters to CNE officials. José Albornoz, of the union-based pro-Chavez Fatherland for all party (PPT), called on the CNE to “tighten the screws” on its functionaries so that they would do a better job in delivering the necessary materials. Opposition supporters, however, said that it was the failure of pro-government parties to transport the materials as they were supposed to. According to recall referendum rules, both the CNE and the parties calling for recall referenda carry responsibilities in carrying out the process.

Ezequiel Zamora, one of the five principal members of the CNE, said that if there were delays in getting material to the locales, these may remain open until 10pm instead the scheduled 9pm.

In the week prior to the petition drive both oppositional and pro-government media were accused of violating the campaign rules set up by the CNE, which limited campaign advertising to two minutes per day. Contrary to government supporters’ expectations, however, during the pro-government organized petition drive, the oppositional media provided fairly ample coverage of the event. President Chavez, Vice-President Rangel, and various pro-government members of the legislature could be seen signing in favor of recall referenda against opposition legislators.

Using his favorite baseball metaphor, President Chavez said that “now we are hitting” and “we will try to make as many runs as we can.” He added that one would have to wait until next week, when it is the opposition’s inning, to see if “they will make any hits.” According to Chavez, it “is possible” that the opposition will manage to collect the necessary 2.4 million signatures in favor of a recall referendum. Appealing to his supporters, Chavez said that they should “wait until the umpire says ‘safe’ or ‘out.’” Also, for the sake of creating a peaceful atmosphere, his weekly Sunday television program, “Alo Presidente” will be cancelled this Sunday and if there should be any presidential announcements, which all television and radio stations are required to broadcast, he will “not mention the topic at all” of the petition drives.