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Venezuela: Electoral Authorities Announce Historic Decision Over Signatures

By Alexandra Beech,

As expected, a recall referendum against President Chavez will likely not take place in Venezuela. At around eleven p.m. Tuesday night, Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that 148,190 forms containing 1,481,900 opposition-collected signatures with similar handwriting would be analyzed by the body’s Superior Technical Committee. Following six hours of negotiations, the electoral board voted 3-2 to place the signatures under scrutiny, postponing any decision over a recall referendum against President Chavez indefinitely.

The decision establishes that the signatures contained within the forms “would be excluded from the signatures which are perfectly valid.”

At a press conference this evening, CNE president Francisco Carrasquero said that the board would approve next Tuesday the procedures for the analysis of the so-called “planillas planas”, or forms containing similar handwriting, referring to the signatures of participants who were assisted when filling out their personal data on the forms, such as the elderly or sick. Electoral norms dictate that only their signatures and fingerprints must be originals.

CNE board member Sobella Mejías and CNE Vice President Ezequiel Zamora expressed outrage at the decision. Mejías said that the decision “was a flagrant violation of the constitution and the norms established by the CNE itself”, while Zamora said that the decision was a “grave hit” against the recall referendum. Zamora also wondered whether the CNE would be able to analyze the signatures in the restricted five day period established in the norms.

Late this evening, the Carter Center and OAS issued a joint statement stating that they would respect the CNE’s autonomy. OAS representative Fernando Jaramillo said that given the difficulty of matching fingerprints and signatures with the data in the national id registry, they suggested that the CNE analyze a sample of the signatures in question. Jaramillo expressed concern over the pressure that continued to be exerted on the electoral authorities. In addition, he said that both the OAS and Carter Center would remain in Venezuela until the problems related to the validation of signatures were resolved.

Following the OAS and Carter Center joint statement, the Democratic Coordinator umbrella opposition group held a press conference, where spokesman Enrique Mendoza called the CNE’s decision “a coup d’etat against the constitution” and said that on “Tuesday, Carnaval day, the government chose to remove its mask.” Mendoza said that the electoral authorities had violated several articles in the constitution and electoral laws, including Article 72 which allows Venezuelans to invoke a recall referendum against elected authorities after the midterm of the period. Chavez’s midterm was August, 2003.

Mendoza then announced that the Democratic Coordinator, comprising dozens of opposition political parties and civic organizations:

1.) rejected the norms established by the National Electoral Council.

2.) ceased to recognize the institutional, political and moral authority of the government-controlled majority of the CNE board until it rectifies its position.

3.) denounced the direct and public communication between the electoral board and “the regime”, which instructed the CNE on the “absurd decision”.

4.) supported the OAS position that a sampling of the signatures in question be analyzed.

5.) exhorted citizens at the CNE, National Assembly, regional legislatures, and others to “denounce the fraud perpetrated against the people’s will”

6.) called on all citizens to engage in peaceful resistance, through citizen assemblies, peaceful protests, and activities to denounce before the Group of 15, due to meet in Caracas this week, the fraud committed by the electoral authorities, “which is not a problem of the opposition, but of the country.”

At a forum in New York tonight, ruling party lawmaker Nicolas Maduro said that the government would appeal to the Supreme Court any decision by the CNE that allowed the recall referendum to go forward. Clearly, Chavez has no intention of allowing the recall referendum to take place. Given his government’s control of the electoral authorities, and feeble stances by the international observers, Chavez may very well remain in power as long as he wishes.

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