Mérida, 22nd March 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Police, pro-government and opposition students clashed on the streets of Caracas yesterday amid a growing opposition campaign against Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE).
The CNE is currently preparing for the 14 April presidential election, following the death of late President Hugo Chavez on 5 March. Polls suggest that the candidate representing the Bolivarian revolution, Nicolas Maduro, is set to win the election handily against opposition rival Henrique Capriles.
In recent days opposition media and politicians have stepped up a campaign of criticism against the CNE and its president, Tibisay Lucena, alleging that the upcoming election will not be held under “fair” conditions.
Yesterday, opposition students presented CNE officials with a list of demands for a “transparent and fair” election. These included scrapping Venezuela’s automated SAE voting system, eliminating the use of fingerprints in the voting process, and ending the involvement of civilian militias in the election-day public security operation.
According to pro-government newspaper Ciudad CCS, the students were prevented by national police from reaching the CNE’s headquarters due to their violent behaviour. Meanwhile, pro-government students held a counter-protest on the other side of police lines.
The paper reports that opposition students threw stones and flammable devices, before trying a “charge” through police lines, which was contained. According to Venezuelan media, four protestors were injured.
However, conflicting versions have emerged of the day, with private media reporting that the opposition students were “ambushed” by the pro-government demonstrators, with police then intervening to keep the two groups apart.
Also yesterday, representatives of Henrique Capriles’ campaign met with CNE officials to discuss thirteen proposals the opposition argues are necessary for a “fair” presidential election. Four of these proposals were accepted by the CNE.
Opposition spokesperson, Carlos Vecchio, said that the deal was “not enough” for the presidential election to be “fair and transparent”. The CNE has since agreed to further study the remaining proposals.
The criticisms of the CNE build upon previous declarations by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who accused the CNE’s president, Tibisay Lucena, of being favourable to the government. “We’re not being herded anywhere,” he warned her in relation to CNE rules on presidential candidate registrations.
Further, on Tuesday conservative daily El Nacional published a stinging editorial on Lucena titled “Lady Liar”, in which the CNE head was branded as “foolish” and “absent minded,” while public attention was drawn to her state of health.
The editorial, written by far-right journalist Miguel Henrique Otero, also called the CNE “a team chosen and armed by power [the government] to ambush the voter at every bend in the road”.
The opposition’s discourse toward the CNE in recent weeks is similar to comments made last Friday by the US’s Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who said that it would be “a little difficult” for “open, fair, and transparent elections” to be held on 14 April.
The comments from the opposition, in particular El Nacional’s editorial, have generated anger and condemnation by pro-government and more moderate circles of opinion.
Top CNE official Vicente Diaz, considered to be favourable to the opposition, called El Nacional’s editorial “deplorable and inconsiderate”.
During the presidential election last October the CNE received glowing praise from international electoral observation groups.
Former US president Jimmy Carter, head of the Carter Centre NGO, commented at the time, “Of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”.
He also praised Venezuela’s automated SAE voting system, which utilises manual and electronic security checks to prevent fraudulent voting.
Meanwhile, the electoral observation mission from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) strongly endorsed Venezuela’s electoral system after the 7 October vote.
“Venezuela has given an exemplary demonstration of what the functioning of democracy is and has taught a lesson to the world, and this is important,” said the mission’s head, Argentine Carlos Alvarez.
Regarding the opposition’s recent criticisms of the CNE and Venezuela’s electoral system, pro-government media expert Oscar Lloreda claimed that this formed part of the opposition’s strategy due to the unlikelihood of them winning on 14 April.
Speaking on Latin American news channel Telesur, he argued, “They [the opposition] are calling on people to vote, but on the other hand they’re creating the conditions to not recognise the results in the case of a defeat”.