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Venezuela's Súmate: abstention percentages will make the difference

By Teresa de Vincenzo, El Universal

Representatives of Súmate, the organization that processed the signatures collected by the opposition to back a presidential recall petition, concluded that it is "technically" possible to activate the requested vote after next month's claim process as proposed by the National Electoral Council (CNE), but warned that it would require an abstention lower than 40 percent.

It would also depend on other factors, including the seriousness of the CNE clerks, street violence and even weather conditions.

Alejandro Plaz and María Corina Machado, leaders of the organization, explained in a press conference Wednesday that 525,118 signatures need to be ratified to call the revoking referendum against President Hugo Chávez.

However, Plaz also said that significant differences were found between the numbers announced by the CNE on March 3 for the accepted and rejected signatures and the database released last week.

Súmate established that 27 percent of the signatures changed status in that time, which he attributed to a large degree of subjectivity in the classification process.

The organization also determined that the CNE annulled 45 percent of the total number of signatures, of which 11 percent "not even may be ratified," Plaz said. Other "substantial differences" include the numbers of accepted signatures in several states. In Mérida, for instance, 80 percent of the signatures were declared valid, while in Barinas, this figure was limited to 23 percent.

Although he admitted that 99 percent of the claim center addresses associated to the identification card numbers of people who must ratify their support to the petition is correct, Plaz also mentioned that many signatures were rejected "unfairly," because of handwriting similarities (956,388 cases), the CNE's lack of the required technology to verify fingerprints electronically (170,600), transcription problems (22,960) and missing collection forms (19,842), among other reasons.

Meanwhile, Machado explained that the CNE's criteria to accept claims on the signatures are not consistent with themselves. If a citizen has the right to repent from having signed the petition and take his or her valid signature back, the CNE should have considered that other citizens could repent from having failed to sign, and should be allowed to do it.

She also questioned the reduction of days from five (as stipulated in the CNE's rules) to just three, and the number of claim boards to be installed nationwide. In Súmate's estimations, 7.790 boards are necessary to guarantee an optimal development of the process. The CNE will install nearly 2,700.

Machado also said that if six of each 10 Venezuelans with the right to ratify their signature actually do so, the possibilities to activate the recall will be over 85 percent. Translated by Edgardo Malaver

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