Mérida, February 12th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that the auditing and setup of the country’s 35,000 voting centers is on schedule to be finished on Friday, and the Venezuelan Armed Forces announced that 140,000 soldiers will guarantee voters’ safety as they go to the polls this Sunday to decide whether to amend the national constitution.
“Everything is perfectly ready, in legal, administrative, operative, technical, and logistical terms, completely ready to open the voting centers very early on Sunday,” said CNE President Tibisay Lucena.
Lucena explained that voting machines and the ink used to dye the tip of each voter’s pinky finger to prevent repeat voting were audited by teams of political organizations made up of proponents and opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, in the presence of CNE directors.
The parties that participated in the audits were the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the Communist Party of Venezuela from the pro-amendment bloc, and A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo), the Christian democratic party COPEI, Democratic Action, Movement Toward Socialism, and Brave People’s Alliance from the opposition camp.
The finger ink underwent a wash test using bleach, vinegar, soap, gasoline, and other potential cleaners, with the supervision of the director of the School of Chemistry at the Central University of Venezuela.
In addition, Venezuela’s Attorney General’s office placed 600 extra investigators on duty during Sunday’s referendum to process potential cases of voter suppression, fraud, or other irregularities, said Lucena.
Lucena also gave a stern warning to both state and privately owned media that they will face sanctions if they release early electoral results or distribute propaganda, even on websites, on voting day.
On Wednesday, the president of the CNE’s Civil Registry Commission, Sandra Oblitas, ordered both the pro-amendment and anti-amendment campaigners to remove illegal propaganda from three locations, including a public electricity building in Caracas and an advertisement spot on an opposition-aligned television station. Oblitas said sanctions will be applied for these cases, and that 57 other propaganda cases are under investigation.
Oblitas said the CNE’s thoroughness in guaranteeing all Venezuelans’ right to vote should inspire confidence in the outcome of the election. “In an electoral process like that of Venezuela, with audits in every phase, any participant in the voting could hardly pretend to doubt the voting results,” said Oblitas.
Meanwhile, the head of Venezuela’s Strategic Operational Command, Jesus Gonzalez, said that the Armed Forces and police will maintain a security perimeter of two hundred meters around voting centers as part of a comprehensive government project called Plan Republica aimed at preventing the destabilization of the democratic process.
85% of the 140,000 troops who will carry out Plan Republica have been deployed, González announced Thursday.
González, who has overseen Plan Republica operations for several previous national elections, including Venezuela’s regional and local elections last November, expressed confidence that his forces are prepared for the task. “We could say we have doctorates in electoral processes,” said González.
Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizalez said the plan consists of “coordinated action to guarantee peace and tranquility for all Venezuelans that they exercise their rights safely.”
Sunday’s vote will be Venezuela’s thirteenth nation-wide election since President Hugo Chávez took office ten years ago. The Chávez administration has expanded suffrage to previously suppressed populations, achieved record voter turnouts, carried out the country’s first ever totally automated election last November, and won the approval of several international monitoring organizations, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center.
Close to a hundred representatives of international organizations from five continents have been accredited to observe this Sunday’s elections, and the CNE doubled the number of national elections monitors this week to prevent irregularities. The international observers will present their findings in a press conference in Caracas Monday evening.
The CNE said it will open voting booths in Venezuelan embassies and consulates in 126 cities around the world to facilitate the participation of its more than 57,000 registered Venezuelan voters living abroad.
For voters within Venezuela, the CNE has widely publicized its hotline that people can call to verify voting center locations, and instructions on voting procedures have been offered this week in some voting booths. There is a separate hotline that people can call to report security-related incidents to the Armed Forces.
“The CNE works absolutely in line with the constitution of the republic and within the law that governs us, to which we are subject,” said Tibisay Lucena earlier this week.
“Although we are a new institution, we have worked tirelessly to win the trust and respect of the general citizenry. For this we demand respect for all institutions… criticisms are welcome, because they strengthen us, as long as they are made with respect,” Lucena said.
Voting booths are expected to open as early as 5:30 am and are scheduled to close at 6:00 pm, unless there are still people waiting in line, in which case the polls will remain open until everyone who is in line at 6 pm has voted. Final results will be announced within two to three hours after polls close.