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Venezuela's recall countdown is suspended - while the country is holding its breath

By El Universal

The high number of signature collection forms backing recall petitions put "in observation" will cause the National Electoral Council (CNE) to publish the identification card numbers of all the persons who supported the referendum petitions. The numbers will appear in nationwide papers, divided in three classes: accepted, rejected and objected signatures. Once all these data are published, the citizens will have five calendar days available to present their arguments in case that they have signed and their signatures have been invalidated, or if they have not and were included as supporting any of the petition.

- Only after completed this stage, the CNE could announce whether or not the 62 pending revoking votes have sufficient backing from the population. CNE sources said that the identification card numbers of the people demanding a presidential recall might be published on February 20. If so, the confirmation-contestation period for these citizens would take place by Carnival.

- The CNE has made objections in the case of about 98,000 signature collection forms backing a recall against President Hugo Chávez. If each form contains at least eight valid signatures, then some 784,000 citizens might need to demonstrate to the electoral authority that in fact signed against the president.

- The CNE experts decided to isolate about 814,000 collection forms submitted by the opposition for a more detailed examination, after they realized that many of them had a uniform handwriting. This is the most numerous group of forms objected. However, uniform handwriting is not the only problem in these collection forms. The experts argue that a number of signatures are repeated and others show evidences of having been simulated. Additionally, a number of people signed but failed to put their fingerprints on the collection forms.

- CNE Director Jorge Rodríguez will propose to discard all the forms where names, identification card numbers and dates of birth seem to have been written by the same person. The statements made by Jorge Rodríguez about the examination of a sample of signatures backing recall votes have put the opposition in state of alarm, as the rules for such an examination seem likely to change.

- Meanwhile, the CNE decided that the signature collection forms requesting a presidential recall vote that were collected in 11 states must be physically checked again.

- In a press conference where the journalists were not allowed to ask questions, Francisco Carrasquero, president of the CNE, said that the board will announce "an adjusted schedule for the recall votes," which implies yet another delay in the announcement of the results of the validity of the petition, which was initially scheduled for February 13.

- Director Rodríguez admitted that "no announcement will be made next Friday 13," breaking the promise he made together on January 14. After a meeting with CNE director Jorge Rodríguez, the Carter Center representatives Jennifer McCoy and Francisco Diez informed that they talked about the schedule for the verification process of the signatures backing a petition for a presidential recall vote, as well as the problems with forms containing the signatures. McCoy said that the CNE has "the will to work hard in order to complete the process before the end of February." During the observation of this process, the O.A.S. and the Carter Center have detected technical and administrative defects, due largely to the novel nature and complexity of the process.

- In a joint statement, the OAS and the Carter Center welcomed the announcement of a date for completion of the process - February 28. Both organizations reiterated that the CNE must work under no political pressures but within the electoral law. Likewise, they said that the citizens' will should be respected.

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