Venezuelan Opposition Rejects More International Observers as Recall Decision is Pushed Until March

A high number of possible irregularities forced Venezuelan electoral authorities to review recall petitions more carefully, pushing the final decision date to March. Opposition rejected more international observers

Caracas, Venezuela. Feb. 16, 2004 ( Venezuela’s National Elections Council (CNE) announced on Sunday that a preliminary decision on the number of valid signatures collected by opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to demand a recall referendum on his mandate will be reached at the end of February. CNE board member Jorge Rodriguez, said that after announcing their findings, the CNE will allow people to submit complains about the misuse of their signature, and then a final decision will be reached sometime in March.

The CNE Technical Committee must review an estimated 409.000 forms that present irregularities or which have been disputed by crews of reviewers. Opponents to President Chavez complain that the review process is taking too long, and have rejected increasing the number of international observers of the process. International observers have suggested that the CNE to define a schedule and stick to it.

Opponents of President Chavez took the streets of Caracas last Saturday to “defend their signatures”. Organizers hoped to march downtown into the CNE headquarters but the government had set up a food market which was attended by thousands of working-class Chavez supporters, prompting the march organizers to decide not to reach the downtown area. The President said that leaders of the opposition had a planed to reenact an episode similar to the April 11, 2002 coup d’etat, where several demonstrators were shot and Chavez was accused by the media of their deaths. Last Thursday, an illegal shipment of 50,000 cartridges for AK-47 rifles was seized by port authorities in the city of Maracaibo.

The main political leaders of the opposition did not attended the Saturday march in spite of its good attendance. The Agence France Press news agency reported 30.000 demonstrators, but local anti-government commercial media reported more than 300.000.

Opponents of President Chavez took the streets last Saturday to demand a decision on the recall referendum request on his mandate.
Photo: S. E.

Opposition rejects more international observers

The opposition recently shifted its rhetoric on the role of international observers into the referendum process after the coalition Coordinadora Democratica rejected calls by the president of the National Electoral Council this Sunday for adding more independent international observers besides those of the Organization of American States and the Carter Center. 

This late move by the anti-Chavez block contrasts with their welcoming of international participation in the signature validation process. On Jan. 30, anti-Chavez protesters demanded that the OEA stay in the country to supposedly curb government’s influence within the CNE.

The opposition argued through one of its spokesmen, Antonio Ledezma, that the CNE decision to add observers without the consensus of the conflicting parties contravened the May 2003 accords between the government and the opposition.

On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez presented further evidence of fraud committed by his opponents during a signature petition drive to request a recall referendum on his mandate. Forms filled by the same person, deceased people and minors signing, and people signing several times, are among the irregularities presented by Chavez as proof of fraud.

“If there is fraud we will announce it”

National Elections Council (CNE) board member Oscar Bataglini said on Friday that the CNE will not hesitate to declare that there was fraud if in fact that is demonstrated in the validation process. “If there was fraud, we will announce it to the nation. We could say that there was a massive fraud because having many forms filled by the same person, with the same calligraphy and almost the same signatures, is a crime, and if we confirm this we will say it.”

Bataglini said that due to the recent findings, they decided to review again thousands of forms. According to him, that new group of forms to be reviewed could result in the detection of up to 50.000 additional forms filled each by the same person.

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