Venezuela’s Electoral Council and Opposition Continue Negotiations over “Repair” Process

Although the opposition is divided between those who tend to be in favor of re-certifying recall referendum petition signatures and those who do not, negotiations over the conditions of the re-certification or repair process continue.

Caracas, March 9, 2004 ( One week after National Electoral Council (CNE) president Francisco Carrasquero announced the results of the signature verification process, the CNE and the opposition are engaged in full-time negotiations to see if the recall referendum process against President Chavez can proceed.

Currently the decision on the referendum is on hold because, according to the CNE, the opposition has submitted only 1.8 million valid signatures, out of the 2.4 million needed. 1.1 million additional signatures are under what the CNE calls “observation.” The opposition and the CNE are now negotiating the exact conditions under which the signatures under observation might be validated.

The rules that regulate recall referenda stipulate that there can be five days of “repairs” during which citizens may have their names withdrawn from the petition if they say that they actually did not sign or, in the case of signatures invalidated due to an error on the form, for people to validate that they actually did sign. Originally the CNE said there would be 600 verification or repair centers, but an outcry from the opposition that this would not be enough, raised the number to 2,700. Although an official announcement has not yet been made, a preliminary agreement seems to have been reached, which would extend the repair process, as a concession to opposition demands, to five days at the end of March. Previously a two or three day repair process had been under discussion.

The opposition appears to be very divided, as some opposition leaders, particularly from the parties Primero Justicia (Justice First), Alianza Bravo Pueblo (Brave People’s Alliance), Proyecto Venezuela, and MAS (Movement towards Socialism) have rejected negotiating with the CNE, on the grounds that the CNE should validate all of the signatures that are under observation and proceed with the recall referendum. Other party leaders, however, have been engaged in intense discussions with the CNE for the past week, to see if more favorable conditions for the repair process can be agreed to.

The latest step in this negotiation has been for the opposition to request the CNE’s data base of the petitions, so that it can compare the CNE’s data with that of Sumate, the organization that helped the opposition organize the recall referendum petition drive. Once discrepancies between the two data sets are sorted out, opposition leaders say they will be in a position to decide whether to proceed with the repair process.

Of the 1.1 million signatures under observation, about 800,000 the CNE says are petition forms written in the same handwriting. That is, there are ten signature spaces per form requesting a recall referendum. In many cases the handwriting is the same on an entire form, even though, according to the CNE, each signer was supposed to complete their personal data, such as printed name, ID number, and birth date, themselves, unless they were physically handicapped.

According to the CNE, nearly none of the recall referendum petitions against opposition and pro-government legislators have sufficient valid signatures for convoking referenda against these. Just as with the presidential recall referendum, up to one third of the petition signatures are under observation, due to their being of the same handwriting.