Caracas, Venezuela. Feb 25 (Venezuelanalysis.com).- As the validation and counting of petition forms to demand the recall of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and several lawmakers continues, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) decided last night to set aside for further review 1.4 million signatures contained in 148.000 petition forms that present similar calligraphy. The signatures whose authenticity is in doubt will be subject to re-confirmation by individual signers.
The decision by the CNE board members was split 3-2.
The suspected petition forms, each of which holds ten signatures, have been dubbed as “writing exercises” by supporters of the government. CNE regulations say that those participating in the recall drive must enter their own data and signature in the forms. Only in cases where a person is physically challenged, another person is allowed to sign for him/her.
|One of the petition forms showing similar calligraphy. According to CNE regulations only in cases where a person is physically challenged, another person is allowed to sign for them.|
Photo: Venezolana de Television
Opposition forces argue that the forms similar calligraphy were filled by the petition drive volunteers in order to help the elderly, and to speed up the signature collection process, allowing voters to concentrate on only signing and stamping they fingerprints on the forms. Government sectors argue that forms were filled fraudulently using third parties data after the signature drive officially ended.
CNE board member Ezequiel Zamora, who disagreed with the decision, argues that the concept of forms with similar calligraphy is not contemplated in the original CNE regulations for referenda, and that “only the signatures must be different.” Pro-government political commentators have recently argued that the case of people who are dead and appear as signers is also not contemplated in the CNE original regulations, but that their signatures should not be accepted as valid. Government sectors claim to have found around 27,000 signatures from deceased individuals during a review of copies of opposition signature forms.
CNE President Francisco Carrasquero, who announced the decision, said that all valid signatures found in the forms set aside for further review, will excluded from re-confirmation.
President Francisco Carrasquero, also announced late last night that they approved the procedures to examine the forms with similar calligraphy and today they will decide on how to proceed with the process of re-confirmation of irregular or suspected signatures by the signers.
Already an unspecified number of signatures have been found to be invalid for belonging to deceased people, minors, foreigners, and individuals not registered to vote.
The opposition claims it collected 3.4 million signatures last December. 2.5 million valid signatures are required to trigger a recall on Chavez.
‘Writing exercises forms’ worry observers
International observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center consider legitimate the concerns with regard to determining if one person has signed for another one, which is contrary to the norms approved by the CNE. “There is preoccupation about the validity of the signatures in the so-called ‘writing exercises forms’, where the writing of the persons’ data have similarities,” said OAS representative Francisco Jaramillo reading a joint statement by the OAS and the Carter Center.
|Signatures with similar strokes appear on many of the petition forms, prompting the government to claim that they were filled by the same person.|
Photo: Venezolana de Television
The observers supported the procedures used by the CNE to disqualify signatures belonging to deceased people, minors, and individuals not registered to vote.
The statement proposes taking a sample of the forms with similar calligraphy and comparing them with data provided by the signers of the forms, in order to come up with a projection of how many of the signatures in those forms are in fact legitimate.
The OAS and Carter Center asked that the process of re-confirmation of signatures be “transparent, agile and simple.”
The observers asked the media, political parties and government institutions to allow the CNE to continue its work free of pressures.
OAS and Carter Center said they would remain as observers until the recall process is finished, contradicting rumors of their departure if the CNE decided to opt for re-confirmation of the signatures.
Opposition rejects decision
The opposition coalition Coordinadora Democratica (Democratic Coordinator) rejected the CNE decision and said it would not recognize “the government-controlled majority of the CNE board until it rectifies its position.”
The opposition coalition argues that the CNE is being “directly controlled” by President Chavez.
CNE board members were chosen by the Supreme Court last fall, and their appointment satisfied both the opposition and the government of Venezuela.
So far no member of the opposition has announced that they would respect any decision by the CNE with regard to the recall referenda. President Chavez has announced he would respect a decision not favorable to him, but promised to appeal to the Supreme Court if the forms with similar calligraphy are accepted as valid.
The opposition has announced demonstrations in the upcoming days to protest the CNE decision and pressure CNE authorities to approve the recall, which could be held as early as June.