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High abstention in Venezuela's Assembly elections; or is it a plebiscite?

By Aleksander Boyd

04.12.05 | Early in the morning I called my family in Caracas to enquire about today's electoral event. The streets in West Caracas are quiet; polling centers in El Paraiso, La Vega, San Martin, Antimano, Montalban, Quinta Crespo, Caricuao, Parque Central, El Conde are empty, at best showing preoccupyingly low turn out. Any learned reader would know that none of the mentioned areas are seats of the 'oligarchy.' A military man forbade my brother in law to take pictures of Manuel Antonio Carreņo, a voting station center in La Paz. The orders from above are clear; emptiness is not to be shown.

Nonetheless the whole squadron of chavista-sycophants has come out in full swing to 'denounce' the so called 'electoral boycott' staged by opposition parties. One of the most vitriolic voices of chavismo, Venezuela's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, one must assume his deranged mind tricked him, admitted that the withdrawal en masse of opposition parties had had the effect of turning today's elections into a plebiscite. And right he is, for once. Under the guidance and command of Jorge Rodriguez, Venezuela's Electoral Council (CNE) has become an arm of Hugo Chavez. In fact, Rodriguez is perceived as Chavez's Minister of Elections. It is not surprising that mention to the results of the audit of Wednesday 23 in Fila de Mariches, in which Leopoldo Gonzalez demonstrated before OAS and European observers that the Smartmatic machines keep the sequence of the vote, is strictly forbidden. Rather apparatchiks have adopted the party line that would have one believe that the problem is not with the voting machines provided by Smartmatic but the fingerprint-catching devices purchased to Cogent Systems. What is more, Rodriguez's 'magnanimity' of having conceded to opposition pressures concerning the elimination of the Cogent machines is heralded as a noble act.

Jorge Rodriguez, since chavismo maintains that Venezuela is still a democracy, is nothing more than a civil servant. It would be unthinkable to see civil servants in functioning democracies behaving in the manner Rodriguez has. There's the impression that the citizenry and opposition parties have to negotiate (?) constitutional rights with chavista officials, legislation notwithstanding. Now that I have cleared the air with respect to Jorge Rodriguez allow me to stress upon a few facts.

1) It was demonstrated, by revealing with absolute precision the choices made by Venezuelan and international assistants to the mock election and audit conducted on Wednesday 23, that Smartmatic electronic voting machines contain a file that keeps the sequence of the vote. Ergo voting in Venezuela is no longer a secret act, as it is in functioning democracies. Cogent's fingerprint machines are not THE PROBLEM but only part of it.

2) NONE of the recommendations made by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center aimed at devolving the lost credibility to the CNE have been implemented. Yet, one of the very same international bodies that more than a year ago saw fitting to advice Venezuelan electoral authorities with respect to the establishment of measures that could guarantee transparency and fairness in voting processes, has decided to obviate the gravity of not being free to secretly cast one's vote. Worse still, OAS is overtly collaborating with the Chavez regime in a completely rigged election.

3) The regime needs an opposition. There's no such thing as democracy in a one-party state. However today's event is just that; read a one-party race. The abstention levels of the plebiscite are yet to be seen. Nonetheless it is already evident that chavismo is hurting [see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]. The much prostituted line of Chavez leading a 'democratic participary' process or a revolutionary "XXI century socialist proyect" is today put to the test. Smartmatic wunderkinder and Rodriguez's electoral gang will work overtime today to cook the results, for should they report later on that less than 15% percent of the electorate participated in the plebiscite, how will they defend the 'massive support for Chavez' hypothesis?

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