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Venezuela: Hugo Chavez Prepares for Checkmate

By Alexandra Beech, sixthrepublic.com

Cleanliness is in. Since 1998, Venezuelans participated in a referendum to form the Constituent Assembly, a referendum to approve the Constitution, and a referendum to dissolve union leaderships. But the same registry that was used for these initiatives is no longer appropriate for the recall referendum.

On Thursday, National Elections Council President Francisco Carrasquero announced plans to “clean” the national voter registry of names of the deceased. Usually, an initiative to make a vote more fair would be commended. But with thirty days left before the referendum, and with exhaustive plans that include preparing an untested voting system and updating the registry with new names and changes, is there time to overhaul the registry?

As Sumate Vice President Maria Corina Machado recently warned in New York, Carrasquero also announced plans to place voting centers in densely populated areas. Last week, Carrasquero denied that this effort was underway, responding to criticisms that there wasn’t enough time to create the new centers. To justify the change, he said that there a need for additional centers because the registry would likely grow to around 14.5 million voters, from the current 12 million. Many Venezuelans were surprised by the addition of almost 3 million people to the registry, wondering whether the recent frenzy to nationalize foreign nationals was a factor. What surprised no one was that the new centers would be placed in pro-Chavez enclaves.

Finally, Carrasquero refused to respond to questions over his candidacy to the Supreme Court. He applied after a controversial law was passed which increased the number of Supreme Court justices from 20 to 32. With the new law, a total of sixteen new justices will be appointed.

In a June 22 Washington Post article, Jose Miguel Vivanco, who is executive director and Daniel Wilkinson is counsel of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that Chavez and his supporters “are rigging the system to favor their own interests.” In fact, “Chavez's supporters can now both pack and purge the country's highest court,” a fact that seems to be lost on international observers as the current president of the National Elections Council heads to towards the Supreme Court. Vivanco and Wilkinson wrote:

“It is this court that may ultimately determine the outcome of the referendum. It will have to decide whether Chavez, should he lose the recall, can run again for president in the subsequent election. And it will have to resolve any legal challenges that arise from the recall vote itself, which is expected to be hotly contested. Pro-Chavez legislators have already announced their intention to name the new justices by next month, in time for the referendum.”

Appointments will be decided on August 13, only two days before the recall referendum. Like a chess player placing pawns in strategic positions for a future win, Chavez is placing Carrasquero and other supporters in the court that may decide the outcome of the referendum. Is anyone watching?



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