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Sumate: free and democratic elections impossible in Venezuela

By Gustavo Coronel

15.07.05 | To choose government officers by electoral means is one of the essential components of a Democratic State but not the only one. The current conditions prevailing in the Venezuelan electoral system indicate that there is no hope that transparent and honest elections can be held in my country. Therefore, voting would only serve the purpose of validating a fraudulent system and lending the regime of Hugo Chávez an illusory semblance of legitimacy.

In order to document my assertions, let me mention first some background information on the Venezuelan electoral system that shows its illegitimacy and, later, summarize the latest report by Súmate on the current dismal situation of the National Electoral Council (CNE), in preparation for the Venezuelan regional elections of August 7th. I hope these considerations can show, beyond any reasonable doubt, that voting in Venezuela today is not a true expression of democracy but a travesty of this essential democratic right.

1. The existing National Electoral Council was designated in violation of the Venezuelan Constitution.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, without the intervention of the proper Nominating Committee stipulated by Article 295 of the Constitution, designated the existing CNE on a provisional basis in August 25, 2003. However, this CNE has been acting as if it was permanent, which is not. In fact, when two of the principal directors, Carrasquero and Zamora, left, they should have been replaced by their official substitutes ("suplentes") but this was not done. Article 296 was violated in the manner this replacement was made, not on the basis of a selection by a Committee of civil society but chosen by the Chávez regime. Originally, in truth, the members of the CNE should have been designated by the vote of the two thirds of the membership of the National Assembly but this was never done. Therefore, all the past and future acts of this CNE are illegal and invalid since the composition of the Board has been structured in violation of the Constitution. Such an irregular CNE cannot preside over a valid election! There cannot be valid elections under the supervision of this illegal Electoral Council. Yet, this is what this regime is attempting to do. And I have to ask: What is the OAS doing there, accepting to monitor elections that are illegal to start with?

2. Current conditions make a free and democratic election impossible.

Súmate, the organization being persecuted by the Chávez regime for treason is denouncing that the elections of August 7th in Venezuela cannot be free and democratic. The issue of the transparency of Venezuelan elections is of the greatest importance for Latin America and the entire Western Hemisphere. What Súmate and the Venezuelan opposition are saying is:

* There is no reliable Electoral Register in Venezuela. Numerous irregularities exist in the number and identity of new voters, in the already registered voters, in the processes of change in the existing lists, in the possibility of doing audits and in the definition of new electoral circuits. As a result, there is no reasonable level of confidence in the transparency of the process. Venezuelans cannot be sure that only those who should vote will vote. For example, the register grew in one month, July 2004, by 12%. This sounds very strange when one sees that this growth is only normally attained in five years. This abrupt increase coincided with the appearance in the register of foreign terrorists such as Rodrigo Granda and the man called "El Chiguiro," both members of the Colombian narco-guerrilla. And Granda voted!

* The audit of the electoral register requested by previous monitoring agencies (The Carter Center and the OAS) has not been done.

* The information on voters posted by the CNE is incomplete, without birth date or addresses. The information has not been given, as the law dictates, to the political parties or posted in the centers for voting. This is a violation of the Law of Suffrage, articles 95 and 106.

* Electoral circuits have been established in an illegal manner. They should have been approved by the National Assembly 13 months before and they were not. They were established without the required approval of the National Assembly. These illegal changes involve 30% of the voters.

* Independent organizations and political parties do not have knowledge of what systems and processes will be utilized in the August elections. This violates article 3 of the Law of Suffrage.

* There are no guarantees that voting will be secret. The article 112 of the Law of Suffrage establishes that there will be a physical record of each voter, together with fingerprint and signature. But the CNE has decided to establish an electronic system that allows the CNE to know how a voter voted. The electronic system violates the Law of Suffrage since this law demands secrecy of the vote and requires that the voter has total trust in that condition of secrecy.

* The CNE will not allow manual counting of all votes. During the last event only a manual counting involving 0.3% of the votes was done, without any monitoring by external observers. This, in spite of a promise to check manually at least 10% of the votes.

* International monitoring is being discouraged. Three days before the deadline for an invitation to monitor, the European Union has not yet received such an invitation. According to the regulations imposed by the current CNE they have the right to publish or not the reports of the observers.

* Proportional representation stipulated in articles 63 and 293 of the Constitution is being violated due to the maneuvers of pro-Chávez parties, before the passive eyes of the electoral council.

In summary:

The current Venezuelan National Electoral Council is an illegitimate body and is acting in an arbitrary fashion to favor the regime. Under these conditions a Venezuelan citizen has no guarantees of impartiality and of the transparency of the process. How can he, she be asked to go to vote? The Venezuelan elections would be a mockery, like the ones that took place in Iraq, with Hussein obtaining 99% of the votes or in Zimbabwe, with Mugabe or in Castro's Cuba. According to a recent report by the Inter-American Dialog, Venezuela is only comparable to Haiti in its level of democratic quality.

Voting in the forthcoming elections would only serve the propaganda purposes of the Chávez political regime.

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