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On the meaning of lack of credibility

By Aleksander Boyd

09.12.05 | From the report produced by the European electoral observation mission:

Wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have trust in the electoral process and in the independence of the electoral authority.

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

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.

The electoral campaign focused almost exclusively on the issue of distrust in the electoral process and lack of independence of the CNE.

Election Day passed peacefully with a low turnout. While the observers noted several irregularities in the voting procedures...

These elections did not contribute to the reduction of the fracture in the Venezuelan society.

The EUEOM takes note of the fact that wide sectors of the Venezuelan society do not have confidence in the electoral process and in the electoral administration.

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.

The opposition parties focused their campaign on the perceived lack of neutrality of the CNE and alleged dangers posed to the secrecy of the vote by an automated voting system which was meant to include the fingerprint capturing devices.

The use of state resources by pro-government parties to mobilize supporters was observed in Trujillo, Monagas, Anzoátegui, Carabobo and Guarico.

Civil society organizations like Sumate and Ojo Electoral played, in different ways, a very important role in the elections. However, only Ojo Electoral sought and obtained accreditation to observe the elections.

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. The possibility of endangerment of the secrecy of the vote was evaluated by EU EOM experts as remote.

The legal framework for the elections is composed of the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation of 1998, the Constitution of 1999, the Electoral Statute of Public Power of 2000, the Basic Law of the Electoral Power of 2002. 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.

Following the inability of the National Assembly to reach the required majority to elect the CNE Steering Board, the Supreme Court, availing itself of the extraordinary powers granted by the Constitution in case where the National Assembly is unable to take a decision, designated the Members of the Steering Board before the Recall Referendum. More recently, one of the members of the Steering Board was nominated by the Supreme Court under a procedure contradictory to the one used for the first extraordinary nomination of the Steering Board.

The system of representation in force in Venezuela is described as one of "personalized proportionality" by the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation of 1998. This ambiguous definition is used to designate a mixed member proportional system. The use of the electoral technique known as Morochas, which allows the duplication of parties in order to avoid the subtraction of the seats gained in the plurality-majority list from the proportional list, certainly defies the spirit of the Constitution...

The principle of the automated voting system is enshrined in Art. 154 of the Basic Law of Suffrage and Political Participation 1998 and in Art 33, Item 42 of the Basic Law of the Electoral Power of 2002. The current development and applications of the automated voting process have however surpassed in various aspects the legal framework.

Despite the fact that no proper audit procedures were agreed in advance...

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.

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. The tone of the coverage of opposition parties in the publicly owned media was significantly more negative than the one reserved to the parties in government. Furthermore, the intense promotion of government policies on the state media during the campaign worked as an indirect publicity of the parties in power. The excessive resort to cadenas (addresses to the nation simultaneously broadcast through all the nation's electronic media) which proliferated in the days prior to the elections could represent a breach of the campaign silence.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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. Domestic observers were present in 6% of the polling stations observed. Their presence was observed in 18% of the polling stations where the EU EOM observed the audit of the count.

The majority of the voters in the polling stations observed experienced problems with understanding the functioning of the voting machines and required assistance. In 41% of the cases observed there were voters unable to complete the process in the prescribed three minutes. This indicates both a lack of adequate voter information and training for election officials on the automated voting system. 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. The type of campaign activities observed included food distribution, cars with megaphones and posters, information stands and provision of transport for voters. Few cases of intimidation were observed, with party members asking voters to sign and thumbprint on a piece of paper that they had voted and who they had voted for.

From the report published by the observation mission deployed by the Organization of American States:

Nevertheless, based on its direct observation on election day, the Mission would like to point out that in several polling centers it was noted that a significant number of voters showed they did not understand or had difficulties with the voting process. 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.

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. The decision was taken by the CNE leadership for weather-related reasons in five states, and in the rest of the country on the grounds that the polling centers should remain open for 10 hours. In practice, poll workers and members of Plan República were the ones who decided the time the polls would close. These circumstances helped to create uncertainty and suspicion. 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.

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. This statement was denounced by all sectors of the country.

In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities; between the government and the opposition; between the government and the privately owned news media; and within the opposition parties themselves.

In particular, the Mission has observed that there remains a distrust of the CNE on the part of a significant segment of the opposition. This was expressed in terms of criticisms about its origin and composition, the perception that the opposition has of partiality and lack of transparency in the CNE’s actions, as well as in relation to the controversial application of some aspects of election laws. 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.

...the efforts undertaken by the CNE in fulfillment of its mandate to automate the vote are worth mentioning. Nonetheless, given its complexity, the system requires permanent audits as well as technical and human safeguards, with the effective participation of all political parties, in order to generate the necessary confidence.

Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Although the right not to participate is recognized, it is of concern that due to the withdrawal of the opposition, an important portion of the citizenry is left without representation in the National Assembly. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process, so that it can loyally participate in the democratic system.

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 levesl, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.

In the view of the Mission, democratic political coexistence will be possible only through a restoration of confidence. This requires building respect and mutual recognition through a frank, inclusive and good-faith dialogue.

This Mission considers that it would be highly beneficial for Venezuelan democracy if, through such a dialogue, government authorities, political parties and citizens could, in the near future, reach a new democratic consensus. 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. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.

25%?

In spite of the demolishing reports, the very many examples of violations to current legislation and outright abuse of power the international media, apart from few exemptions, continues to print that Chavez managed a resounding victory with 25% of support. Democratic deficit notwithstanding, all analysts and reporters take the figures reported by Venezuela's electoral authorities at face value without giving a second thought to the reports produced by so called reputable international observers. I remember last year, right after the referendum every journo commenting on Venezuela was happily replicating "the OAS and the Carter Center deemed the recall fair and transparent..." However this time they have chosen to ignore the appreciations and observations of one of the very same international entities, and another, that for reasons of lack of transparency decided to decline the invitation made by the CNE last year. I have commented elsewhere that results produced by a crooked authority have no value and that reports based on such assumptions are on an equal standing. The point of the matter is, as Pedro commented yesterday, that Venezuela has in fact an illegitimate assembly, filled with representatives elected under fraudulent and illegal conditions. That assembly is vitiated with nullity and for all legal, democratic and practical purposes must be considered void. It matters not whether chavista assemblymen amend the constitution or strike off certain articles that could make life miserable for the dictator. The inevitable truth is, as The Economist recently affirmed "Venezuela is no longer a democracy in any meaningful sense of the word."

But the conclusions of those reports vis-a-vis electoral authorities and the way in which these conduct electoral processes throw into doubt also the result of last year's recall referendum, for let us not forget that none of the provisions in place this time round to facilitate international observer's tasks were implemented during the recall referendum, and for that very reason the European observation mission declined participation.

The take away message is no democracy-loving being in Venezuela trusts the CNE. In my dictionary lack of credibility means that reports or statements uttered by a person or institution considered not credible, are not worth the paper they are written on. 25% of the votes? Yeah right...



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