Venezuela’s Electoral Authorities Condemn Attempts to Discredit Them

Opposition forces accuse the Electoral Council of being "too slow" to verify and count signatures to request a recall referendum on President Chavez. Also put pressure to postpone the elections governors and mayors

Caracas, Venezuela. Jan 21, 2004 ( The president of National Electoral Council (CNE), Francisco Carrasquero, expressed concerns this Wednesday for what he calls “the unleashing of an unjustified campaign, without legitimate reasons, against the electoral referee”. According to Carrasquero, that view is shared by the rest of the Electoral Council board members, and they consider it “extremely dangerous, as whatever decision the Council may make [on the recall referenda signature verification process], must be respected by all parties.”

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council is currently counting and verifying the authenticity of signatures collected both by supporters of President Chavez’s government and by opponents, to request recall referenda on opposition lawmakers, and on President Chavez, respectively.

“Members of some political sectors come to the CNE to misrepresent the truth, to lie, to spread falsehoods about the signature verification process we are doing, and we cannot tolerate it, because it creates cracks and injures on the credibility and the majesty of the institution. Politicians defend their party interests; we defend the rights of all Venezuelans,” said Carrasquero.
Right-wing opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First) has publicly criticized the CNE as being too slow to verify and count the signatures. Primero Justicia Secretary General Jose Luis Mejia, said that there were two CNEs; one working “as fast as a rabbit” on gubernatorial elections, and another one “slow as a turtle” working on the recall referendum against President Chavez.

Primero Justicia and several other opposition parties have asked the CNE not to verify fingerprints to validate signatures collected by them for the referenda because “it would take forever to do it”. The CNE established procedures for collection of signatures to request referenda, asks for the signer’s fingerprints next to their signature. Article 3 of the CNE signature verification norms states that they must “digitize a representative and exhaustive statistical sample” of fingerprints. “They are asking to break the rules now,” said National Assembly deputy Juan Barreto, a supporter of President Chavez.

Opposition forces have also put significant pressure on the CNE to try to postpone the elections of state governors and city mayors, for December instead of late July or early August. Unity inside the opposition coalition Coordinadora Democrática (Democratic Coordinator) has been recently affected by internal political fights and divisions over upcoming elections and the choosing of a single candidate to run against President Chavez in an eventual new election. Primero Justicia leader Julio Borges recently accused fellow anti-Chavez politician Henrique Salas Römer of the Proyecto Venezuela party of being “obsessed with being president.”

It is not the first time that the opposition has tried to discredit the National Electoral Council. Last September, representatives of the opposition coalition Coordinadora Democrática Timoteo Zambrano and Asdrubal Aguilar, accused the CNE of violating Venezuela’s constitution and international law, by declaring invalid an earlier request for a recall on the President. The signatures to request a recall at that time were collected before the allowed period established by Venezuela’s Constitution to recall an elected official.

Several Chavez administration officials have warned that the opposition is “engaging in a campaign to discredit electoral authorities”, in an attempt to “mess the chessboard up” (sabotage the game) as the CNE is about to unveil what they call is a “mega fraud” in the anti-Chavez signature collection process. Independent polls ordered by opposition parties, show President Chavez’s popularity growing. Unlike previous years, these polls have not been made public by those who paid for them. Pro-Chavez political analysts say that the President’s growing popularity has caused alarm within the opposition.

Pro-Chavez ONG “Profesionales por Venezuela” (Professionals for Venezuela), delivered yesterday a comprehensive report of alleged irregularities by the opposition during the signature collection process.

According to CNE president Francisco Carrasquero, they expect to have the signatures counted and validated by February 13.

Carrasquero announced that CNE authorities will meet this Thursday with Thomas Shannon, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US National Security Council, to analyze the progress of the recall referenda process. US ex-president Jimmy Carter will arrive into the country on January 25th to also observe de recall process.