Venezuela’s Chavez Urges his Opponents to Respect Electoral Authorities

President Hugo Chavez demanded his opponents to “behave democratically” and to respect electoral authorities, after recent episodes of violence and threats of rebellion if signatures for recall referendum are declared insufficient

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared confident of staying in office, and condemned calls for violence by some of his opponents. Chavez broadcasted his weekly live TV show from the working-class Caracas neighborhood “23 de Enero” on Sunday, Jan 25, 2004.
Photo: Venpres

Caracas, Venezuela. Jan 26, 2004 ( After showing a video of various recent violent actions by political opponents of his government, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared that the images “reveal the desperate state in which sectors of the opposition are falling into as a result of their fear of defeat.” The video included lawmakers from opposition parties throwing objects at and trying to punch pro-government colleagues at the National Assembly during a heated debate last Wednesday.

On his weekly live television show, Chavez referred to what he calls attempts by his opponents to question the legitimacy of the electoral authorities who are currently counting and validating signatures to request a recall referendum on his mandate. He called for the Venezuelan people to be “very alert to the actions and statements by leaders of the divided and failing opposition,” and urged the opposition to “behave democratically and with civility and to respect the state institutions.”

“This shrinking, divided opposition, that doesn’t have leadership or morals and pretends in vain to reinstall the Punto Fijo Pact in Venezuela, must never return. The people are here to stay!,” he proclaimed. The Punto Fijo Pact was an agreement signed in 1958 by leading Venezuelan political figures, to share power and ensure political stability. The pact is regarded by critics as being responsible for acts of corruption and inefficient policies not being criticized or denounced during the 40 years that the main two political parties alternated in power.

The opposition has declared they collected the sufficient signatures to request a recall referendum on the President, but according to Chavez and leading figures from parties that support the government, the opposition is sabotaging the process of certification and validation of the signatures because the petitions turned in by them contain many “phony signatures.”

Even though the media is forbidden from publishing numbers on the current estimates of invalid signatures detected so far by the CNE, some have said that “it is quite a large percentage” according to leaks from insiders at the National Electoral Council (CNE). This may explain the government’s recent statements reflecting great confidence and the opposition’s recent attempts to question the legitimacy of the electoral authorities who weeks ago were still regarded as honorable and legitimate.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a pet turtle during the his weekly live TV show broadcasted from the working-class Caracas neighborhood “23 de Enero” on Sunday, Jan 25, 2004.
Photo: Venpres

New rebellion?… bring it on!

The Head of State admonished the Venezuelan people and the rational sectors of the opposition “that truly want democracy” and that are not in agreement with the Government “not to follow the call to violence by those small, desperate groups.” Some radical opposition groups have made calls to take “drastic measures” if the National Electoral Council concludes that the opposition did not collect enough valid signatures for the recall referendum.

Chavez warned that “we must be prepared” because there are leaders in the opposition who are threatening to organize a rebellion if there is no recall referendum. “Bring it on, gentlemen! We are waiting for you!”, he exclaimed.

On Friday, Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel announced that Venezuelan intelligence officers had detected a large shipment of explosives coming from neighboring Colombia, and said that the shipment might be connected to opposition groups seeking to overthrow the government. Rangel said that some sectors of the opposition are “desperate”, as efforts to defeat President Chavez in the electoral arena seem to be on the road to failure once again.

“We will respect the arbitrator”

Chavez ratified the confidence of the Executive Branch in the National Electoral Council (CNE) and asked for Venezuelans to respect this arbitrator. “We will not attack the arbitrator”, he said. Contradicting his own statements, Chavez himself criticized some CNE officials by saying that there are sectors inside the CNE that “seem to be obeying mandates from the opposition’s political coalition.”

“We will respect the decision made by the CNE, whatever it is, we will respect it”, said Chavez, who also demanded that the opposition do the same. “We will respect the arbitrator and leave it in peace to carefully review that which needs to be reviewed in order to make the correct decision,” he added.

“If there is a referendum because the CNE says there will be a referendum, then we will have a referendum. But if the CNE declares that there were not enough signatures collected to have a referendum, well, then there will be no referendum. It is that simple.” Those are the rules in the game of democracy”, he reminded.

Polls favor Chavez

The opposition’s questioning of electoral authorities coincides with new polls showing President Chavez’s approval rating at 45%, up from 35% last fall. As some analysts and Chavez himself have pointed out, these polls are conducted by companies whose owners are believed to be sharply opposed to Chavez, and in the past have predicted his defeat in elections he actually ended up winning by a wide margin. This led Chavez and some of his supporters to speculate that his approval ratings must be at around 55%. In order for a recall referendum to succeed in getting the President out of office, his approval rating must be 30% or less, according to estimates.

Opposition political analysts are increasingly recognizing Chavez’s growing popularity and are urging political opposition leaders to change their strategies in order to get Chavez out of office. Several opinion articles featured in national newspapers written by columnists who oppose Chavez, have criticized opposition politicians for their actions which, they argue, have helped the President’s popularity grow. Among the main criticisms are; lack of a leader who could unite the opposition and challenge Chavez, a negative message presented to the nation, lack of a political project or government plan to replace Chavez’s, and not recognizing that some of Chavez’s social programs are fair and must be continued under a hypothetical post-Chavez government.

Private media urged to “abandon the destabilization campaign against the CNE”

The representatives of the public media, the state news agency Venpres, the state TV channel Venezolana de Television, YVKE radio, National Venezuelan Radio (RNV), and the private pro-government newspaper VEA, met this Sunday with the President of the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter, to share their concern of the growing tendency of the mainstream private media to create a current of opinion through a consistent editorial line that question the legitimacy of the electoral authorities.

Vladimir Villegas, president of Venezolana de Television, stated that the political position assumed by the owners of the private mainstream media could become an element that is conspiring against the stability and peace of the nation.

He underlined that the only solution will be that recognized by the electoral arbitrator. He also emphasized that the government, as stated by President Chavez himself, has already declared it will respect and support the decision made by the electoral arbitrator, whatever it may be.

“But at no time have we heard the spokespersons of the opposition stating this same intention to respect the decisions of the CNE”.

The President of VTV, Channel 8, stated once again that the public media maintain their desire to meet with the private media owners.

Helena Salcedo, Director of National Venezuelan Radio, reminded that the agreement brokered by the Carter Center to create media campaigns in support of the CNE, still needs to be initiated by the private media.

Marcel Granier, the president of the television network Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) told the state news agency Venpres this Sunday that the CNE’s decision will be respected if they prove that not enough valid signatures were collected. Granier is a very vocal opponent of President Chavez whom he accuses of setting up a “Castro-communist regime” in Venezuela. “If the CNE reasons wisely, and if they can demonstrate that there was fraud, the country will have to accept it,” said Granier.

Some information from Venpres was used in this article.