Venezuela’s Elections Council Schedules Re-Certification of Recall Referendum Signatures

Repair process in which citizens can re-certify or remove their names from the recall referendum petitions will take place at the end of May. The exact number of signatures involved is still undecided.

Caracas, April 15, 2004—Jorge Rodriguez, one of the five members of Venezuela’s National Elections Council (CNE), announced yesterday that the re-certification or “repair” of the recall referendum signatures will take place at the end of May. There will be two sets of “repair” days: one for the petitions for recall referenda against legislators and one for the petition for a recall referendum against President Chavez.

The decision was made by the National Electoral Directorate, which is responsible for the logistics of electoral events. The first set of dates, for petitions involving legislators, will take place May 14 to 16 and the second, involving the presidential recall petition, will take place a week later, from May 21 to 23. The CNE rules state that the repair process is to take five days, for which one day is being used to set up the “repair” centers and one day to take them down.

Venezuelans whose signatures have either been invalidated or placed under observation will have the opportunity during these days to confirm that they intended to sign the petition and thereby validate their signature. Also, citizens who appear on the petition forms but who say they did not sign will have the opportunity to remove their names from the petition.

The exact number of signatures involved in the repair process is not known yet, but a decision is expected before the end of the week. Once a final decision has been made about which signatures are eligible for the re-certification procedure, the names will be published in major newspapers, so that citizens can find out if they need to participate in the repair process. The results of the process will be announced 48 hours after the conclusion of the procedure.

Opposition and Pro-Chavez Parties Object to the Procedure

Both opposition and pro-Chavez parties issued statements after the announcement, in which they criticized aspects of the repair process. According to representatives of the Commando Ayacucho, the pro-Chavez campaign coalition, the repair process should involve the full 2,659 repair centers only on two days and on the third to fifth day these should be reduced to one center per region. “One cannot make the process easy for those who have cheated,” said a representative.

Felipe Mujica, spokesperson for the opposition coalition Democratic Coordinator, which had been engaged in negotiations with the CNE, said that the announcement of the repair process “in no case constitutes an agreement,” even though most of the concerns of the opposition had been addressed by the CNE decision.

The main point of uncertainty that remains, which is why the Democratic Coordinator has not yet decided as to whether it will participate, is how many signatures will be considered validated and how many are eligible for the repair process.

Supreme Court Issues Contradictory Rulings on the Repair Process

Earlier in the week, the electoral chamber of the Supreme Court issued a new ruling in which it ordered the CNE to validate all 876,000 signatures it has currently placed under observation for exhibiting similar handwriting in either the personal data and/or the signatures themselves. According to the electoral chamber, the CNE decision to place these signatures under observation cannot be justified legally because the referendum norms do not explicitly state that such signatures are not valid.

However, the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court had previously issued a ruling that denied the electoral chamber competence in the matter with the argument that lacking a law that governs recall referenda, the referendum process had to follow the guidelines set by the constitution, whose interpretation is the sole prerogative of the constitutional chamber.

The CNE’s legal advisor, Andrés Brito, also announced on Tuesday that the CNE would only abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber, not of the electoral chamber.

Legal experts say that the final word on the matter would have to be left to the full Supreme Court, which consists of 20 judges of all of the court’s five chambers. If and when that might happen, though, is uncertain.