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Opposition scores huge victory over Hugo Chavez in Venezuela

By Miguel Octavio

Caracas (03.12.03) - Venezuela’s opposition would have scored a huge victory over President Hugo Chavez, if the Electoral Board were to certify the validity of the 3.6 million signatures the opposition claims to have gathered this weekend to request a recall referendum against the President. While technically, that number alone would be below the 3.75 million votes required in an actual recall; the signatures were gathered under less than ideal conditions. Moreover, the magic 3.75 million number corresponds to the number of votes obtained by Hugo Chavez in 2001 at the peak of his popularity, indicating how far down Chavez has come and the strength of the opposition.

The process of gathering the signatures was not an easy one for the opposition. Regulations were quite intricate, including the fact that each signee had to sign as well as leave a fingerprint and that once a polling station run out of forms, voters had to go elsewhere. Venezuelans abroad were not able to participate, but they will be able to vote if an actual recall referendum does take place. But perhaps the biggest limitation was the fact that the signatures will be made public. This was used by the Government to intimidate members of the military forces and civil servants. Chavez himself said that the signatures of those that signed will remain in history as evidence of their treason, while Government paid billboards said it succinctly:”Your vote is secret, you signature is not”. And this is what will likely make the difference in the actual recall; thousands that were afraid of having their signature made public will have no such fear this time.

Now Venezuelans wait for the Electoral Board to verify and certify the opposition’s numbers. Chavez’ initial reaction was to suggest there was massive fraud during the election, but international observers from the OAS, the United Nations and the Carter Center have explicitly said there was no evidence of large scale fraud and the process was clean, forcing Chavez and his administration to back down. The new strategy appears to be to try to stop the opposition from reaching the magic 3.75 million votes in the recall referendum, through Governments spending and a less confrontational tone. Even if they succeed in stopping the recall, last week’s victory by the opposition has already recalled Hugo Chavez’ mandate for a revolution.

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