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Analysis of EU & OAS reports on Venezuela's elections

By Alex Beech

09.12.05 | Verbatim | Many articles and editorials have been published over the international observers' reactions towards Venezuela's legislative elections.

I ask you to draw your own conclusions. Below, I've provided, verbatim, key observations included in each report. [I placed questions and comments in brackets].

The European Union

Pre-Electoral Environment

Wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have trust in the electoral process and in the independence of the electoral authority. [Under these conditions, can a fair election take place?]

The disclosure of a computerized list of citizens indicating their political preference in the signature recollection process for the Presidential Recall Referendum (so-called "Maisanta Program") generates fear that the secrecy of the vote could be violated. [Do Venezuelans fear for the secrecy of their vote because a list with names and political preferences was computerized and published by a pro-government lawmaker, allowing government ministries to take reprisals against dissidents, including the firing of government employees, as well as withholding jobs, scholarships, and passports? Chavez recently announced that the list would no longer be used for reprisals. By then, many were unemployed. ]

The disclosure of a database containing more than 12 million citizens' personal data and their political preference (the so called "Maisanta" Program) expressed during the signature collection for the Recall Referendum generated widespread fears that this information could be used for intimidation purposes and undue influence on voters. This fact played a significant role in favor of the abstention. [See above.]

The use of state resources by pro-government parties to mobilize supporters was observed in Trujillo, Monagas, Anzoátegui, Carabobo and Guarico. [Even with the use of government resources to mobilize supporters, voter turn-out was 25%. Is it legal for parties to spend state resources?]

Violations of the provision for public officials to take part in the campaign was observed in nearly all States and committed by almost all main political parties. The parties included quotes from local officials in their captions as well as pictures of officials in their campaign posters including in some cases, of the President. The violations observed in the last phase of the campaign were mainly carried out by pro-government parties. [Again, with state resources spent on campaigning, violating the law, why did only 25% vote?]

The elimination of the fingerprint capturing devices from the voting process was a significant move aimed at restoring the confidence of the parties. [Why did the CNE agree to eliminate them? Why were the computers programmed to keep track of voters?]

The discovery of a design flaw in the software of the voting machines, with the consequent remote possibility to violate the secrecy of the vote was dealt with by the CNE in a timely and adequate manner. [What other flaws could exist in the software? How does this affect the Recall Referendum?]

Legal Framework

Due to the National Assembly's inability to find a qualified majority on the adoption of a new Basic Law, crucial aspects of the electoral process have not been harmonized with the provisions of the new Constitution 1999. [In other words, Venezuela's electoral process is not constitutional?]

The legal framework contains several inconsistencies that leave room for differing and contradictory interpretations.

Election Administration

The National Electoral Council (CNE) is an institution with significant human and technical resources. The CNE technically administered the process well, and its logistical preparations for the electoral event were adequate. Its performance was however tainted by the accusations of bias and partisanship that have accompanied its work since the past Recall Referendum process. [What does "technically administered" mean? Is the National Elections Council biased?]

The voter register ( Registro Electoral Permanente, hereinafter REP), has been the source of continuous debate and several allegations of illegitimate entries. This is not a novelty in the Venezuelan elections; however, the sharp increase of registered voters before the Presidential Recall Referendum cast serious doubts on the composition and entries of the most recent REP. These suspicions were heightened in the pre-electoral period by the refusal of the CNE to make available the address of the voters to political parties due to an unclear constitutional data protection provision. [Take note of the following sentence: "the sharp increase of registered voters before the Presidential Recall Referendum cast serious doubts on the composition and entries of the most recent REP. With a flawed electoral registry, can the election be considered valid and legitimate? Why did the government refuse to provide the data of registered voters to parties, when it flagrantly published the names and addresses of those who had signed for the referendum?]

Media Coverage

Most of the private media tended to offer more space to the views of the political forces critical of the Government, and when expressing their political preferences, they often disregarded basic journalistic principles. [Did EU observers quantify the discrepancy? What was the exact ratio?]

On the other hand, state-owned media should provide fair recognition to the views of all Venezuelans and therefore has strong obligations in terms of objectivity, fairness and impartiality. However, it did not fulfill these obligations. [Why does Chavez object to the use of private media for politics - including imposing hefty fines - when state television employs the same tactics? Is it ethical and just to use state media for political gain?]

The EU EOM notes that the frequent presence of the President on State TV and radio is an unusual practice and did not contribute to the improvement of the political climate. [Did Chavez's frequent use of state and private media to campaign for his candidates provide a fair election? Is a president effective when his presence does "not contribute to the improvement of the political climate"?]

The use of images featuring public officials for campaign purposes was widespread and must be condemned as a generalized, flagrant violation of CNE regulations on that matter. [Again, with the violations of regulations on such "a generalized, flagrant" manner set the state for impartial, fair, and transparent elections?]

Election Day

Election Day passed peacefully with a low turnout. While the observers noted several irregularities in the voting procedures, the manual audit of the voting receipts revealed a high reliability of the voting machines. [What were the irregularities in the procedures? Would the same irregularities be tolerated in a European election?]

Polling stations opened on average between 7,00 and 8,00 am.

The delays were mainly due to the late arrival of the staff and a general slowness in the opening procedures. In 70% of the polling stations observed there were missing polling officials replaced by political party agents, reserves or ordinary voters. [So polling officials were replaced by political party representatives?]

The presence of the armed forces of Plan República inside the polling stations was noted in 25% of the polling stations observed. This was contrary to the provision that allowed the security forces to be inside the voting centres but not inside the polling stations. [Could the presence of armed soldiers in polling stations, as well as the uncertainty over the process, influence in any way the outcome?]

The political party agents were observed in 70% of the polling stations visited. In 68 % of these cases there were only agents from pro-government parties. [Would the presence of pro-government observers inside polling stations affect results? Would the same "irregularities" be allowed in Europe?]

The majority of the voters in the polling stations observed experienced problems with understanding the functioning of the voting machines and required assistance. [So the voting process is overwhelming for the average voter. And this took place with only 25% of registered voters.]

This indicates both a lack of adequate voter information and training for election officials on the automated voting system. [So why not use manual ballots until the population is prepared? Because the government relies on the curious little computers for its state-of-the-art elections.]

The assistance to the voters was often provided by the polling station staff, security forces and the political party agents, raising concerns about the secrecy of the vote. Campaign activities in favor of pro-Government parties were noted in the vicinity of a large number of the polling stations observed. [Would polling station staff, armed soldiers, and political party agents be permitted to aid voters in Europe? Were the 2005 Congressional elections with took place in Venezuela fair and transparent?]

Preliminary Recommendations

The legal framework that governs the electoral process must be harmonized with the constitutional provisions on the elections. [If the electoral process is not constitutional, was this election valid?]

The National Assembly should appoint a CNE Steering Board composed of independent professionals of various extractions that enjoy the trust of all the sectors of society. [The new, pro-Chavez National Assembly should now appoint a new, non-biased and trustworthy electoral board.]

The prohibition of public funding to parties for the electoral campaign should be reconsidered. The electronic voting system should be audited by an independent institution. [Yes, government funding of pro-government parties for pro-government advertising and events could influence the outcome of an election. Thanks, EU. I'm sure that the Chavez government will take heed...]

The REP should be audited in conjunction with the ID register by an independent institution. [A clean electoral registry would enable Venezuela to conduct fair elections. Thanks, EU.]

Final Question to the EU Delegation, and to the international media - which characterized this election as "fair": Would you feel comfortable if an election took place in your country under the conditions described by the EU's report, such as the presence of armed soldiers and party officials inside the polling stations, the publication of a list with voters' intentions, a flawed software system, and biased electoral authorities? Would you vote?

  • Full report here

  • The Organization of American States

    On election day, the Mission deployed its 45 observers in 22 states of the country to observe the elections through a random sampling of polling centers. [So 45 people determined the legitimacy of a vote which could determine the fate of 25 million.]

    It was verified that, as the National Electoral Council (CNE) had stated, the digital fingerprint machines and the electronic voting notebooks were not in use and the machines were disconnected during the voting. [What would have taken place if a technician had not proven before international observers that together with the fingerprint id technology, the government could determine the intention of each voter?]

    The day ended with a participation level of approximately 25% of all potential voters. [Why did Chavez, as well as government representatives, order supporters and government workers to vote? Many countries have elected leaders with figures close to 25%, but Chavez’s consistent international message has been that the vast majority of Venezuelans feverishly support him. Where was the fever during the elections? Clearly, Chavez has suffered a setback with this abstention rate, whether his admirers admit it or not. The numbers aren’t there. Whether those who abstained are opposition, apathetic, catatonic, or disgusted with all sides – the fact is that his people didn’t come through for him, and this may be because there are simply not as many as he claims.]

    A good number of voters asked the poll workers or political party observers present to accompany them and help them cast their votes with the electronic ballot. Such practices could damage the secrecy of the vote. [Why wasn’t this very important issue of voter confusion addressed during the Recall Referendum, when the same technology was used? If the government violated the secrecy of the vote by publishing the list mentioned in the EU report, why would voters now trust the electoral authorities? Wasn’t voter perception damaged prior to the election, making a fair and transparent election impossible? Again, why did so many voters stay away from the polling stations, when hordes participated during last year’s Recall Referendum? Why the discrepancy between the two numbers?]

    In the majority of polling centers observed by the OAS, the polls closed between 5 and 7 p.m., even in several cases when no voters were in line, which was not in compliance with the schedule established by law. [In simple terms, if the law was flagrantly violated, is this election legitimate, according to legal international standards?]

    It is worth noting that the extension of the voting hours coincided with an intensification of the governing party’s campaign to increase participation in the final hours. [This is a grave observation. As the government violated the law by extending voting hours, it also intensified its campaign to increase participation. What would the abstention level look like if the government had followed the law, closing the voting stations at 4 pm?]

    The Mission laments the public statements made by a high-level leader of the governing party that sought to coerce the participation of government employees. [Ruling Party lawmaker Iris Varela said that government workers should be fired if they didn’t vote. Yet, no member of Chavez’s inner circle has ever faced repercussions for violating the law. By the election, trust in the process was so eroded that few heeded her call.]

    In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. [Clearly, the stage was not set for an election. The distrust may be mutual, but the only entity which requires the trust of all Venezuelans, is the National Elections Council. That trust is simply not there.]

    Additionally, certain inconsistencies and gaps in the electoral law were observed, which reduced legal assurances and which suggest the need for a rigorous reflection on these laws. [If the electoral law is flawed, how can this election be legitimate? Is it even legal?]

    Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. [Was Venezuela’s democracy strengthened by this election? Is the National Assembly a legitimate institution now, when 100% of its new members represent only a segment of the population? Whose interests will be represented in the new legislative body? Is partisanship what constitutes a legislature?]

    It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. [Did the pro-Chavez electoral authorities generate the necessary conditions for participation? How does this statement reverberate to the Recall Referendum?]

    During the election campaign, the Mission observed proselytizing activities on the part of high-level public officials, at the national as well as the state and municipal levels, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends. [Like the EU, the OAS observed campaigning by senior government officials. More unethical and problematic still was the use of state funds and resources for political and electoral ends. I return to the question: was this a legitimate election? Were international electoral standards observed before, during, and after the election? This election only reflected a deep-rooted problem: that indeed, one of the central characteristics of the Chavez government is “an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.” Enjoying access to billions of dollars in “discretionary” funds, the government has procured - not only domestic – but international support. Thus, the very timid OAS report. After all, the OAS is nothing but the North Americans, South Americans, Central Americans, and Caribbeans. How many in that list have benefited from Chavez’s irrational exuberance?]

    In the view of the Mission, democratic political coexistence will be possible only through a restoration of confidence. [The restoration of confidence rests on the behavior of the government. During the past seven years, the government has demonstrated very little inclination to co-exist with its opposition. Rather, it has fired opponents, imprisoned dissidents, threatened journalists, and bought support. Under the current conditions, do not expect confidence to surface anytime soon.]

    The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. [With this vote, Chavez obtained what he has wanted all along – absolute control. He now controls the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Executive branch. Do not expect a pro-Chavez legislative branch or court to implement any reforms which would diminish their hold on the country.]

    Final Question to the OAS: Would you implement Venezuela's electoral system in your own respective countries?

  • Full report here

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