Venezuela’s Opposition Takes Recall Referendum to Court

This week supporters of the recall process against President Chavez took the matter to Venezuela's Supreme Court, in the hope of resolving issues there. Chavez supporters and the electoral council tried to block the move

Caracas, March 11, 2004 ( A grouping of the Venezuela’s main oppositional parties, Primero Justicia (Justice First), Copei, Acción Democratica (Democatica Action), MAS (Movement Towards Socialism), and Proyecto Venezuela, filed for a court injunction with the country’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) against the National Electoral Council (CNE). According to the group, the CNE made a number of errors in its decision to temporarily reject over 800,000 signatures written in similar handwriting in the petition for a recall referendum against President Chavez.

Among the arguments the opposition parties filed, were that the CNE violated the right to citizen participation, to equality under the law, and to the non-retroactivity of norms. The opposition argues that the rule that every signer had to fill out their own personal data (such as birth date and ID number) was not explicitly stated by the CNE prior to the referendum and that many helpers in the petition process merely helped people sign the forms. CNE, however, argues that these rules were previously established and that the forms written in similar handwriting are thus suspected of being fraudulent.

Shortly after the application of the court injunction was filed, members of the Comando Ayacucho, which is consists of a grouping of political leaders from the pro-government coalition, filed to have two of the Supreme Court judges removed from the case, due to conflict of interest, and replaced with their substitutes. The case is being tried in the Supreme Court’s electoral chamber, which has three judges.

The CNE’s legal consultant, Andrés Britto, also went to the court yesterday, joining in the Comando Ayacucho’s motion to have the two judges excused for the case. According to the briefs, the two judges in question are said to have take already taken clear positionsag against the president.

Members of the opposition argue that their case has a good chance of being viewed favorably in the electoral chamber of the court and are optimistic that the signatures in question will be declared valid, thus enabling the recall against President Chavez.

There is a possibility, however, that the court’s constitutional chamber, which has five judges, or the full court of 20 judges, will take up the case, where the result would be more difficult to predict.

Preliminary Agreement between Opposition and CNE

Despite the wrangling within the Supreme Court, opposition representatives and the CNE are continuing their negotiations about how to organize the “repair” process in which the temporarily invalidated signatures could be re-validated. The core of the debate has been about how many repair centers there should be, how many days they should be open, and when the process should begin. The most recent negotiation results say that there is a preliminary agreement to have 2,700 centers, which would be open for five days.

Another issue that opposition representatives are negotiating over involves the use of computers at the centers. The opposition would prefer to have print-outs of the signatures to be re-verified instead of placing computers at each center.

Further issues have involved the number of signatures the CNE has evaluated and how their results compare with those of the organization Sumate, which counted the signatures for the opposition, prior to turning them over to the CNE. Apparently, 7,000 petition forms (with potentially ten signatures each) had been accidentally omitted from the CNE’s count and will probably be added to the totals. Also, the opposition is optimistic that another 25,000 petition forms the CNE had declared inadmissible will be recovered. The CNE had invalidated as many as 39,000 for not being a part of the closing documents, as was required by the rules.