Venezuela’s Electoral Council Says Observation of Referendum Will Be Allowed

International observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States will be invited to observe the August recall referendum. The rules will limit them to observation and will prohibit parallel counts by organizations other than the Electoral Council.

July 7, 2004—Francisco Carrasquero, the chair of Venezuela’s Electoral Council confirmed yesterday in Washington, D.C. that international observers, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center will be allowed to observe the August 15 recall referendum. However, he added, “One will not allow them to interpret the results nor emit declarations in the sense of substituting the electoral arbiter.”

Electoral Council Board member Jorge Rodriguez, who was also visiting Washington, clarified that the rules that will govern international observation will not be much different than the rules that other countries have. They will have access to all facilities, free transit, and access to all necessary information, but “to be observers and not actors. This means being present and offering a truth of the proceedings and of the results, but without wounding the sovereignty of the electoral power,” said Rodriguez.

Carrasquero said, “this week the invitations will go out” to the international observers. Carrasquero also had a personal meeting with OAS general secretary Cesar Gaviria in order to “personally invite” the OAS as observers.

Previously there had been some doubts as to whether the OAS and Carter Center would be invited for the referendum, since Electoral Council (CNE) members had strongly criticized some of the organizations’ joint statements, which they said violated an agreement between the observers and the electoral council. According to that agreement, the observers were to disclose their statements with the CNE in private before making them public, something which they did not do on at least two occasions. Nonetheless, Rodriguez said, “the dialogue [with the observers] was always very fruitful.”

The European Union has also indicated an interest in sending observers for the August 15 referendum, but Carrasquero said that he doubted they would because according to their own rules they need at least six weeks preparation for observer delegations, for which there would not be enough time.

The CNE still has to approve the rules which will govern international observers. Carrasquero said in Washington, though, that these rules would state no organization other than the CNE will be allowed to present results of the vote, meaning that exit poll projections and the like would be prohibited. This rule appears to be directed particularly against Sumate, the U.S.-government funded NGO that has been in charge of logistics for the opposition’s recall efforts.

Other decisions that the CNE still must make, prior to the referendum, involve the use of voting machines, which is all but certain, and the use of fingerprint reading machines, which would prevent voters from voting more than once. Over 20,000 voting machines, which also print out paper ballots for a separate audit of the electronic vote, have already been supplied.