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Venezuela: Electoral infight continues...

From El Universal

-Ezequiel Zamora, vice president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), accused a part of the personnel of the CNE's computer systems department of attempting to make fraud in the physical verification process of signature collection forms. The complaint was immediately underrated by the body's President Francisco Carrasquero, Director Oscar Battaglini and the technical staff of the National Electoral Board (JNE).

-Enrique Naime, member of the opposition umbrella organization Democratic Coordinator, complained that the Ombudsman's officials monitoring the signature verification process have gone beyond the limits of their duties.

-Meanwhile, the opposition's CNE-accredited witness in the process also expressed their complaint that the electoral officials are not following the rules in the evaluation of the signature collection forms.

-The National Electoral Council (CNE) decided to authorize the access of observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and The Carter Center to the quality control area and the discussions of the technical committee on the ongoing signature verification process for the various recall vote petitions. The OAS had described these stages of the process as "sensitive," because the technical procedures performed there would have a direct impact on the eventual validity of the signatures and data contained in the collection forms and, therefore, on the final decision of the CNE.

-The president of opposition MAS party, Felipe Mujica, announced that the authorities of his organization decided to publicly denounce irregularities committed by the National Electoral Council (CNE) during the verification process of the signatures backing a recall petition against President Hugo Chávez. "A conspiracy is underway in the CNE at all levels to keep the number of signatures from proving sufficient for the recall vote against the President," Mujica said.

-Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Electoral Board (JNE), said that the agency has not annulled any of the signature presented by the opposition requesting a presidential recall vote. Rodríguez responded to political leaders who have accused the CNE of invalidating as many as 652,000 signatures. However, he admitted that a group of signatures are undergoing more detailed observation.

-On the other hand, sources told El Universal that the government is supposedly ready to sign two decrees that would make easier the process of obtaining the Venezuelan citizenship by foreign residents. If approved, this procedure enables the naturalized citizen to vote. Estimations are that the new rules would create at least one million voters for the regional election and a proposed presidential recall

The "wide open" eyes of Jimmy Carter

-Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in Venezuela on Sunday to find out ways "to offer more help to the signature process" the CNE is carrying out. Representatives from different sectors of the Venezuelan society met with Carter.

-"We expressed (Mr. Carter) our concern about the number of illegal procedures and threats against the media and covert attempts to control freedom of speech," said Marcel Granier, who acted as spokesman of the private media.

-"We talked about transparency (in the electoral process)," Iván Rincón Urdaneta, president of Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), said. He added that the TSJ "would not accept violations of the Constitution, neither from the government nor from the opposition."

-Carter also met the directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE) near noon.

-"The political future of Venezuela rests on the shoulders of the CNE, and we are extremely satisfied with their performance," Carter said, after a meeting with the directors of CNE. "All the CNE's decisions are based on the laws and the Constitution."

-"I have nothing to fear," President Hugo Chávez said after meeting with Carter. "In behalf of the Venezuelan people and honesty, I want everything checked, even under the carpets. I have no problem, no nationalist complex that the OAS and The Carter Center review everything, because we have nothing to hide. It is rather the opposition who is trying to hide a huge fraud," he added.

-In Chávez' account of the meeting with the former U.S. President, he said that Carter's "eyes got wide open" when looking at the "evidences" of the opposition's fraud. The President said he had even invited Carter to stay in Venezuela for as long a time as he wished and bring "a hundred persons from The Carter Center to examine everything, every single computer." He added that his only objective was that the process and the results were "absolutely transparent."

-The former U.S. President said Tuesday before leaving the country that while the CNE "is progressing," he thinks the verification process of the signatures backing a presidential recall vote will not be completed, as announced, by February 13. Carter said that it is not an intentional delay but one caused by the enormous number of signatures and documents to be processed.

-The latest information he obtained is that the process would be delayed for no more than 10 days, but he hopes it will not take longer than March 1st. According to Carter, the CNE's most serious delay comes from the will to scrupulously compare doubtful signatures with the collection forms. That takes too much time, he said.

-The former President also said that his organization is committed to Venezuela, regardless of the CNE's decision. If there is a recall vote, The Carter Center will remain here, he said.

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