Venezuela’s Government “will not stick its hands” in Decisions Made by Electoral Authorities

Venezuela's Vice-president said that the government will respect any decisions that the electoral authorities might make, as the process of verification of signatures for possible recall referenda gets underway.

Caracas, Venezuela. Jan 22, 2004 ( Venezuelan Vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel, reaffirmed the Executive branch’s commitment to respect the autonomy of the Electoral Branch as the process of verification and counting of signatures for possible recall referenda gets underway.

Rangel visited the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE), and said on a press conference that the government “will not stick its hands” in the decisions made by the CNE as it used to happen during previous administrations.

“We will respect any decisions that the electoral authorities might make,” said Rangel, adding that the government has allocated the necessary resources for the CNE to work efficiently and independently on the petition verification process for the referenda and on the planning of the upcoming gubernatorial elections.  

The Vice-president expressed some preoccupation due to an alleged public campaign aimed at damaging the prestige and credibility of the electoral authorities, coming from political parties opposed to the government and the mass media.

Government officials and political groups that support the Chavez administration have made numerous claims of alleged fraud committed by the opposition in the signature collection process to call for a recall referendum on President Chavez. 2.5 million valid signatures are required to trigger the recall. The opposition officially claims they collected 3.4 million. However, opposition political figures have privately commented that only 1.9 were collected.

Opposition parties’ officials have publicly criticized the CNE as being too slow to verify and count the signatures, and of overreacting to public comments about the signature verification process. Others have gone as far as saying that the Executive Branch is controlling what happens inside the CNE. 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 early August, in order to buy time to sort out internal divisions within their ranks.

“We do not understand this attacks under the current climate of normality in the country, and after everybody had agreed on respecting the referee or the judge; the CNE,” said Rangel.

The opposition’s questioning of electoral authorities coincides with new polls showing President Chavez’s approval rating at 45%, up from 35% last fall. The polls, which were ordered by the opposition, have not been publicly announced or commented by the mainstream media who opposes the President. The choosing of the members of the Electoral Council by the Supreme Tribunal last year, was celebrated both by the government and by the opposition, as it was perceived to be politically neutral.

“This latest campaign worries us because we could be at the beginning of a new destabilizing effort. It is still fresh in the memory of Venezuelans, the images of previous situations instigated by opposition sectors such as the coup d’etat of April 11; the first assault to the new Constitution. Later, another assault happened with the oil sabotage of December of 2002,” emphasized Rangel.

On Wednesday, the president of National Electoral Council (CNE), Francisco Carrasquero, expressed concerns for what he calls “the unleashing of an unjustified campaign, without legitimate reasons, against the electoral referee”.

The Vice-president said that the Executive has not found any faults with the way the electoral authorities are working.

Finally, Rangel said that in recent meetings with representatives of the Carter Center, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United States Embassy in Venezuela, there have been no objections or complains about the work being done by the CNE to verify the signatures.

“The Department of State of the United States does not have to be worried about the Venezuelan recall referendum process because we are adults putting our democracy into action,” added the Vice-president.

OAS happy with the referendum process

At a press conference this Friday, OAS representative Fernando Jaramillo, who is currently visiting the country, urged Venezuelans to trust the process of verification of signatures initiated by the National Electoral Council. “We all can be sure that his process is going to finish well and on time,” said Jaramillo.

The OAS representative congratulated the Council’s crew who is working in the verification process, since according to him, “are doing a superhuman job”.

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Some information from Venpres and other sources were used in this report.