Mérida, 8th August 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) has rejected an appeal against the 14 April presidential election results from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, citing a failure to provide “sufficient proof”.
Yesterday afternoon, Magistrate Gladys Gutierrez announced that the court had reached a unanimous decision following a “detailed study” of the case brought to the TSJ by Capriles, the MUD opposition coalition, and others. Running as the MUD candidate, Capriles narrowly lost the 14 April presidential election to socialist candidate Nicolas Maduro.
Describing the opposition's case as a “shame”, that “trivialises democratic debate”, Gutierrez argued that not only did the opposition lack sufficient evidence to support their claims of electoral fraud, but also stated that the case targeted judicial authorities “for not submitting to their [the opposition's]...will.”
“It's evident, therefore, that you didn't go to the court with the intention to resolve a dispute,” Gutierrez stated, arguing instead that the opposition presented a case that “disrespected” the court.
Gutierrez said that although the plaintiffs had argued that there were “many” cases of irregularities during voting on 14 April such as “delays in the voting process and alleged irregularities in some polling stations”, the court found that the opposition lacked proof that any such irregularities affected the outcome of the election, and described his proposal to annul votes as “unacceptable”.
“It's not enough [to prove] that there were faults; it must be determined that the will of the electorate was compromised,” Gutierrez stated.
Along with Capriles' claims of electoral fraud, the court also dismissed calls from the opposition leader to require President Maduro to publicly present his birth certificate.
In recent weeks Capriles has questioned Maduro's nationality, arguing that he may have been born in neighbouring Colombia. Both Maduro and Colombian authorities have rejected the suggestion.
In a press release, the TSJ stated that the failure of the opposition to present any admissible evidence of electoral fraud “is proof that [the 14 April results] were completely legitimate”.
“The legitimacy of the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, who won a majority of the votes cast in that process is complete and right under the law,” the statement read.
The court also fined Capriles Bs10,700 for presenting what Gutierrez described as “offensive content”. Capriles is required to pay the fine to the national treasury within five days. The TSJ also stated that Capriles could be subject to criminal proceedings, due to the “seriousness of the offences and disrespectful terms” used in his campaign to challenge the electoral results. The court has forwarded the case to the attorney general's office.
The 14 April Presidential Election Dispute
Capriles first indicated that he would contest the electoral results early in April. Shortly after polls closed on 14 April, some opposition leaders announced that Capriles had won. Hours later, the National Electoral Council (CNE) declared Maduro the winner, with an initial victory margin of 1.59%. Capriles rejected the results, and the following day he stated that the government's alleged fraud could be revealed through a count of all paper ballot receipts. On 18 April, the CNE announced it would conduct the audit, as requested by the opposition. However, on 25 April, Capriles backtracked, introducing a series of new demands including audits of all voter fingerprints and signatures. He then labelled the agreement he had previously reached with the CNE as a “joke”. On 27 April, CNE head Tibisay Lucena stated that the new demands would not be incorporated into the audit.
“They began demanding things that had already been audited by their own representatives, such as the electoral rolls, as the signed documents from those audits clearly show,” Lucena stated. She also pointed to a lack of any compelling evidence of fraud. This document reportedly constituted the majority of evidence submitted by Capriles to the CNE. According to Capriles, the document contains evidence of widespread voter fraud, the distribution of pro-Maduro propaganda and violence at polling stations. Capriles has also stated that opposition electoral monitors were thrown out of hundreds of voting centres at gunpoint, though there were no reports of any irregularities on voting day, and all electoral monitors signed off on vote tallies.
Opposition Response to the Verdict
Following the ruling, Capriles tweeted that he had been “fined for defending the truth”.
“The lack of justice in our country is unacceptable,” he tweeted.
This wasn't the first time Capriles publicly hit out at the court.
“We think Venezuela’s Supreme Court has been converted into a court of the government, but we must exhaust all the institutions before taking it before international institutions,” Capriles stated in April, when he first announced the appeal.
On Tuesday, Capriles again criticised the TSJ via Twitter for taking too long to issue a verdict, and reiterated that he already intended to pursue the case internationally. On Wednesday, one of Capriles' attorneys Ramón José Medina stated that they may take the case to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and associated judicial institutions, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and possibly other international bodies. Maduro's victory has already been recognised by OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza and most member states.
On Wednesday, Capriles again took to Twitter to criticise Maduro, calling him “a huge coward” after authorities detained one of his top aides. Speaking in Caracas on Wednesday, Maduro hit back at Capriles for defending the aide, Oscar Lopez. The president stated that Lopez is being investigated for money laundering, and was allegedly caught “red handed”.
“Today a chief of corruption and Venezuela's right-wing mafioso was captured,” Maduro said.
Upon arresting Lopez on Wednesday, authorities reportedly searched his apartment and confiscated documents and one or more computers and mobile phones. According to Maduro, authorities also intend to investigate Lopez's bank accounts, but provided no further details of the allegations against the aide.
However, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua indicated in a tweet that the investigation may be related to campaign finances used by Capriles during his 2012 and 2013 presidential bids.
The MUD has released a statement labelling the arrest as “a new attack against those who don't stop fighting for the restitution of legality, justice and rights in Venezuela”.
Maduro denied the case is politically motivated, and said that all cases against members of the opposition are “serious investigations”, including the investigation into opposition legislator Richard Mardo.
Along with tax fraud, Mardo is also being investigated for money laundering. Last month, the legislator was stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The decision was made by a simple majority in the National Assembly. Capriles has labelled the decision “unconstitutional”, arguing that the decision should have been passed by a two-thirds majority.
The Time is Ripe For Maduro
This week, Maduro renewed accusations that Capriles is trying to undermine the constitution.
“Get ready because the fascist right is proposing to end the Constitution,” the president stated from Caracas on Wednesday, according to AVN.
“If they come and want to mess with the constitution, it's like messing with a son or daughter and we have to go out and defend it as one would defend their children; with life, with truth, with ideas, with reason,” Maduro said.
Capriles has rejected the accusation. “Millions and millions will run you out of Miraflores. Nothing will save you from when we apply the constitution!” he tweeted yesterday.
However, recent polls indicate that support for Maduro may have increased since he won the April election by 1.49 percentage points, though results are mixed. Polls conducted last month by private firms Hinterlaces, the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) and International Consulting Services (ICS) all give Maduro majority support. The lowest estimate came from IVAD, which found that 52.4% of participants viewed Maduro's performance positively. The highest figure was from the ICS. Over the weekend, ICS head Lorenzo Martinez stated that Maduro's support is at 65%. Maduro won the election with 50.6% of the vote.
“People perceive Maduro as an honest man, because he has implemented strategies through Indepabis, and through the fight against corruption,” Martinez stated, according to AVN.
The IVAD poll also found that 52.3% of survey participants want Venezuela to continue the “direction it was taking” under former president Hugo Chavez. However, in an interview with Globovision, Oscar Schemel from Hinterlaces stated that the firm's latest poll indicates that 56% of Venezuelans believe the country is “on the wrong path”.