Venezuelan Opposition Demands Recount of Referendum Votes

Still insisting that there was fraud, the opposition says it wants an audit of the paper ballots. International observers and leaders from countries around the world endorse the official referendum result that declared Chavez' victory.

Caracas, August 17, 2004—Opposition leaders in Venezuela are calling for a recount of referendum results, despite repeated assurances by both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States (OAS) that their numbers coincide with those announced by Venezuela’s national electoral authority (CNE), which gives President Hugo Chavez a win over recall efforts.

Leaders of the opposition refused to accept the CNE’s announcement of results that showed that more than 58 per cent of voters favored Chavez to stay on as President of Venezuela during this past Sunday’s historic presidential referendum. Opposition leaders had said they would abide by CNE results before the referendum.  With their refusal to accept the CNE’s results after the referendum, opposition leaders said they would only accept the judgment of international observer organizations.  However now, with the Carter Centre and OAS supporting the CNE and its figures as well as categorically refuting the possibility of fraud, the opposition is demanding a recount of votes.

Jesus Mendez Quijada, leader of one Venezuela’s main opposition parties, today continued to call the referendum a fraud and called for a manual recount of votes while spokespeople for Sumate, a civil association with ties to the opposition, said they had serious doubts that the numbers provided by computers used during the elections were accurate, have also called for a manual recount.

Jorge Rodriguez, President of the National Electoral Directorate, called the opposition coalition’s accusations of fraud “criminal,” noting that the opposition had played a part in all preparations for the referendum and during the process and for them to call fraud is to condemn themselves as “accomplices,” given their full participation in the electoral process.  

However, Rodriguez said yesterday that the CNE is open to a recount and opposition leader, Julio Borges of the opposition party, Primero Justicia (Justice First), today assured support for results done after a manual recount of votes.

Other international observers, including intellectuals, academics, celebrities, parliamentarians, NGOs, and international social organizations, headed by Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, released a press release that stated their support for the referendum results.  “The entire process was transparent and took place in an environment of trust with very satisfactory guarantees of accuracy and technical rigor for which there can be no support for arguments of electoral fraud,” Galeano said.

The statement noted the democratic participation of Venezuelans in an election with the highest voter turn-out in the history of the country with more than 10 million people in a country of 14 million registered voters, casting their vote during the presidential referendum.

U.S. State Department spokesperson, Tom Casey said yesterday there is no evidence of fraud in the presidential referendum in Venezuela and today the State Department accepted referendum results and called on the Venezuelan people to seek reconciliation.  

“We join the Group of Friends of Venezuela to recognize the preliminary results of the referendum which show that President Chavez received the support of the majority of voters,” Adam Ereli said, a spokesperson for the State Department.

The Spanish government yesterday congratulated the people of Venezuela, its authorities and President Hugo Chavez for the peaceful development of the referendum.  The European Union called the referendum process “a victory for democracy.”  

Brazilian chancellor, Celso Amorim said that his government is “satisfied” with the transparency of the Venezuelan referendum after speaking with representatives of the OAS.  Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, congratulated Chavez by telephone for the victory announced by the CNE.  Colombian President Alvaro Uribe congratulated President Chavez and the people of Venezuela for the victory in the referendum and called for all to work together for the future of Venezuela.

And finally the opposition governor of the oil producing state of Zulia, Manuel Rosales, accepted the results of the referendum today and called on the opposition to focus instead on the upcoming September elections of Governors and mayors in the country.