Venezuelan Constitutional Reform Vote Concludes Peacefully

Voting on President
Chavez's constitutional reform proposal proceeded normally today in practically
all of Venezuela,
with only a very few minor incidents reported. Most voting stations closed on
time, at 4pm, with a few remain open a bit longer, while those in line finished
voting.

By Gregory Wilpert and Chris Carlson – Venezuelanalysis.com

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Voters standing in line in the upper middle class neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes in Caracas. (Gregory Wilpert)
Voters standing in line in the upper middle class neighborhood of Los Palos Grandes in Caracas. (Gregory Wilpert)
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Caracas
and Mérida, December 2, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Voting on President
Chavez's constitutional reform proposal proceeded normally today in practically
all of Venezuela,
with only a very few minor incidents reported. Most voting stations closed on
time, at 4pm, with a few remain open a bit longer, while those in line finished
voting. Participation appeared to be lower than during last year's presidential
election, but seemed higher than some people had feared it would be.

As has become custom in
Venezuela, sound trucks drove through the streets of the capital Caracas,
sounding a wake-up call trumpet at around 4am, to wake people up to go out to
vote. Voting centers opened at 6am and in many places lines began forming at
5am.

Reports from voting centers
indicated that participation was good and the voting process was relatively
fast and smooth, compared to previous electoral events. Opposition voting
center witnesses often claimed, though, that the indelible ink that voters dip
their finger in to mark that they have voted, was not really indelible,
suggesting that voting more than once might be possible.

Also, technical mishaps occurred
in some voting centers, so that some voting machines did not work, but the
Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), said
that the percentages of failing voting machines was within the normal bounds
and that they could be replaced in time, so that only minor delays occurred.

The publication of exit polls
or anticipated results, prior to the first official CNE results, is strictly
forbidden by CNE regulations. Nonetheless, some international news agencies and
the rumor mill within Venezuela
raised hopes on both sides that their side was winning.

Nonetheless, both sides began
gathering, with Chavez supporters ready to celebrate outside Miraflores
presidential palace and opponents gathering in the middleclass district of
Chacao in Caracas.

The CNE was expected to present its results sometime between 10pm and 11pm. Around 9pm "Yes" campagin spokesperson, Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez, conceded that the results will be close.

Over 16 million voters were
able to cast their vote today on whether citizens wanted to accept a
constitutional reform proposal that President Chavez had initiated and that had
been modified by the country's National Assembly.

The reform is to change 69
articles of Venezuela's
1999 constitution and covers a wide variety of issues, ranging from deepening
the country's participatory democracy, strengthening social inclusion,
reorganizing the country's interior political jurisdictions, and strengthening
aspects of the president's powers.

Merida

The electoral process in the
city of Merida took
place with complete tranquility and normalcy. Most voters turned out in the
early hours of Sunday morning, when voting centers had some long lines of
people waiting outside, but by mid-morning voting centers had shorter lines of
voters waiting to vote.

In the southern sector of the
Pedregosa voters stated that the turnout seemed to be lower than in other
national elections, and by mid-morning the small lines at voting centers seemed
to confirm that. A longer line of voters outside one voting center explained
that voting had been slightly delayed there due to two broken voting machines,
but otherwise the voting process appeared to be taking place in total normalcy.

Two students from the
University of the Andes (ULA) stated that students were gathering outside the
Economics department of the university to await the results. The Economics
department of the ULA has traditionally been the center of anti-Chavez
activity, and is the home to Movimiento 13, the right-wing opposition group led
by Nixon Morenos, who led violent riots in Merida in 2006 and has teamed up with the
U.S. Embassy to hold political forums at the university.

Although political demonstrations
are outlawed on this electoral weekend, the students gathering at the
university this afternoon could mean that some riots could take place later
this evening if the electoral results do not come out in their favor. One voter
stated, however, that while students of the University of the Andes are
politically active in the city of Merida, many
of them are not from the Merida
area, and thus travel to other parts of the country to vote.

The state of Merida
has traditionally been one of the zones with the lowest support for President
Hugo Chavez, and barely went in favor of Chavez in the 2006 presidential
elections. The majority of voters in the city of Merida voted against Chavez in 2006, but the
surrounding rural areas of the state, which have stronger support for him,
swung the total back in favor of the president last December.

Foto: President Chavez voting in the working class neighborhood 23 de enero (Prensa Presidencial/Alfonso Ocando)