Chavez Under Investigation for Violation of Venezuela’s Campaign Rules

Venezuela's electoral council announced today that President Chavez, candidates for governor and mayor, and mass media outlets will be investigated for violations of the campaign law. Accusations against Chavez involve improper use of state resources and insulting public officials.

Caracas, October 28, 2004—As part of a larger investigation of a broad spectrum of political actors into violations of Venezuela’s campaign law, the national electoral council (CNE) is also investigating President Chavez. CNE board member Jorge Rodriguez explained that numerous candidates and mass media outlets, including the president, are being investigated for violating article 8 of the electoral law.

This coming Sunday, on October 31, Venezuelans will vote for 23 governors, 335 mayors, and hundreds of local municipal and state councils. Voters will be able to choose from over 8,000 candidates and over a hundred political parties.

Article 8 of Venezuela’s electoral law prohibits campaign messages that go against “the honor, privacy, dignity, or reputation of people (…) that promote the excitation to national, racial, or religious hate (…) that incite to violence against any person or group of persons and promote disobedience of laws.”

Opposition leaders have been calling on the CNE to charge Chavez with violating campaign rules because during the last broadcast of his weekly television program Alô Presidente, Chavez strongly criticized the governor of Zulia, Manuel Rosales. Among other things, Chavez said of Rosales, “men such as Manuel Rosales would even sell their own mother.”

CNE board member Sobella Mejias, who is considered to be sympathetic with the opposition, also said that the CNE should be investigating the president for using ministries and public institutions for his campaign. Also, he should be sanctioned for making “a series of aggressive and pitched insults against regional office holders.” She accused the other three CNE board members, Jorge Rodriguez, Francisco Carrasquero, and Oscar Battaglini, who are considered to sympathize with the government, of being accomplices to Chavez’s campaign violations, for not having done anything about them.

Battaglini responded by saying that the CNE has so far not received a single piece of evidence against the president. Jorge Rodriguez said in a meeting with the foreign press that the main body that is responsible for investigating and for sanctioning such violations is the Commission on Political Participation, of which he and Battaglini are not members. Rodriguez later announced that the Commission on Political Participation would open an investigation of the president, of governors, and of various mass media outlets for violating the campaign rules. “No one will escape from complying with the rules,” said Rodriguez. If any should be found guilty, they could face fines of up to $6,000.

Chavez had been fined by the electoral council before, in 1999, during the referendum campaign for the members of the new constitutional assembly, when he used the platform of his presidency to support individual constitutional assembly candidates. Mejias said, “he may hold informative events to announce public works, but cannot influence the decisions of voters.”

Meanwhile, Chavez said during a rally that he did not believe that he violated any campaign rules. But, he added, “I obey the institutions and have always assumed my responsibilities, especially since February 4, 1992,” the day that he led a coup against the government of Carlos Andres Perez. “If the CNE believes that I … am violating the law, I will accept what they decide,” said Chavez.

Chavez added that he believed that the opposition was constantly violating campaign rules, saying that he thinks that the CNE, “should first sanction the television channels that constantly violate the norms and which violated them during the recall referendum campaign.” He pointed out that during the recall campaign the private media refused to accept campaign advertisements of the pro-Chavez side. “They should also be sanctioned!” Chavez called out in his speech.

Conflict Over Electoral Registry

In his meeting with foreign correspondents, CNE board member Jorge Rodriguez flatly contradicted fellow board member Sobella Mejias, who had said that the electoral registry was fundamentally flawed. Mejias, who oversees the commission for the maintenance of the registry had argued what there are as many as 1.8 million citizens registered without a home address, which is illegal. Rodriguez, however, pointed out that aside from the several internal CNE audits that had been conducted of the registry, the opposition NGO Sumate has conducted several audits of its own and has repeatedly certified that the registry is in good shape.

Vice-President assures country that elections will be completely normal

Vice-President Rangel said today that the security of the regional election will be guaranteed by 120,000 soldiers from the “Plan Republic,” which will safeguard all elections material and the safety of voters. According to the information of the executive, “there is complete normalcy in all of the country” and that this will continue to be so through the elections.

Rangel said that the calm in the country is partly due to the dialogue the government has been having with oppositional sectors, such as the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (the main Catholic Church representatives), the industrial federation Conindustria, and the director of the Central University of Venezuela.

Rangel added, that “perhaps the abstention rate will be a bit higher” than in the recall referendum, but that is because the regional vote “has historically had a high abstention rate, since it does not have the same emotional charge as a presidential vote.”