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Venezuela: electoral board members send wrong signals in first interviews to the press

By Miguel Octavio

10.05.06 | In the last few days, there have been a number of interviews in the press with the new members of the Electoral Board. In them, some of them, while attempting to sound impartial, send a terrible signal, in my personal opinion, as to the future of their decisions.

There were four interviews in the press, one with Janeth Hernandez (Tal Cual, page 6, May 8th. 2006), Sandra Oblitas (in charge of the all important electoral registry, El Nacional, Monday May 8th. page A4)), German Yepez (El Nacional, May 7th. 2006, page A4), Janeth Hernandez (El Nacional, May 6th. 2006, page A4) and Vicente Diaz (El Nacional, May 5th. 2006, page A4). All of these are by subscription only and only one member is missing, Tibisay Lucena, the current Electoral Board President, who was part of the previous one and thus, well known in that she supported Jorge Rodriguez at every step and breath.

First of all, the three members of the Board who are considered pro-Chavez, claim independence, impartiality and all of that. However, all of them say that they consider the auditing of any more than 5% of the votes ridiculous from a technical point of view. They say this, even after accepting that the previous Board may have had less credibility because of some of the decisions. They claim that this is a technical problem and should be handled as such, but they fail to acknowledge that none of the audits since the recall vote were actually completed as promised and the audit performed in the December election was not a live or hot audit, but instead was supposed to be completed in five weeks, which did not happen.

Particularly tough on this issue was Board member Janeth Rodriguez, who in the Tal Cual interview said that “the rules of the game are not negotiated” or “The old CNE made too many concessions that I would not have accepted”. Curiously, while defending technical issues, she admits that only 43% of Venezuelans trust the electoral system, something which apparently she fails to take into account in her “technical” decisions and considerations. She is actually quite strong telling El Nacional that she disagrees with manually counting 100% of the ballots. “Never that!” she said in that interview.

The next issue in which they are all quite strong is the matter of using the fingerprint capture machines. Two of the new Board members (Hernandez and Oblitas) think they should be used in order to guarantee the one man, one vote precept; the third one German Yepez says he is “open” but thinks these are an important element to guarantee the one man, one vote concept. However, none of them mention that it has always been shown that the number of people voting twice was simply insignificant, while it is well known that the fingerprint machines have been used both as an element of fear to suggest to voters that it may be known how they vote, as well as the fact that by having access to the real time data, the CNE can tell the Government how things are going in terms of attendance and help them make decisions like keep polls open beyond the time they are supposed to be opened as was done in three of the last four elections. (In the fourth one, there were no machines so it could not be monitored).

Even more laughable are Oblitas’ defense of the Capel audit of the voter registry. Capel only audited up to the year 2000, while the huge jump in new people registered and irregularities in the registry took place in 2003 and 2004. Second, the registry was never handed over to all political parties as stated by law, but nevertheless turned over to the Government and its political hacks repeatedly in 2004 and 2005 for political harassment and the violations of rights of Venezuelans. Curiously, this is simply ignored by all of the new board members, except, of course, the lonely so called voice of the opposition in that Board.

Even more naïve is Oblitas’ statement that she has no basis to think that the electoral registry may have irregularities. It is well known that both the identification and registration processes in 2004 and 2005, did not follow the rules and regulations in terms of checking identities, addresses and facts before the issuing of ID cards, as required by law and that there are numerous irregularities, such as 2,000 Gonzalez’s that were born on the same day, people who are over 150 years old and the like.

Even more laughable are the repeated statements that criteria should be technical and not political. What is this? The return of Carlos Andres’ technocrats? The CNE is in the end at the service of the voters, not the Government or technical matters. It is supposed to guarantee the precision of the vote, but also to develop the confidence of the voters in most of the electorate, something that goes well beyond simple technical decisions. To say otherwise is to cynically try to misrepresent or misinterpret the role of the Electoral Board in Venezuelan political life. Even Yepez acknowledges this, saying that “everything that generates more confidence is necessary”, but later he says that auditing 3% of the ballots should be sufficient.

All in all, too many inconsistencies in the statements by the new members of the CNE to feel comfortable about it. Despite their many claims of impartiality and a “new” CNE, they sound like the same old, same old Electoral Board. Fortunately or unfortunately for us, the new CNE will have to define many of the matters within the next month, so that the opposition will be able to judge whether the new Board members truly want a transparent and simple system that can make everyone comfortable with the results or whether the partisan acts, votes and secrecy of the Jorge Rodriguez era are still there.

So far, it does not sound very positive. I hope I am wrong, for the sake of democracy in Venezuela.

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