Some Venezuelan friends of mine are part of a Student network committed to inform the international community on the course of the electoral process. It is therefore my pleasure to bring my small contribution to their work by publishing their newsletters (the first one is below) on this blog, despite of the fact that it has apparently nothing to do with Europe. I said apparently because their initiative is also about rights we, Europeans, are most attached to: freedom, democracy, justice, …
The Venezuelan Presidential elections will be held this year on October 7. Because of its characteristics and possible outcomes they will be crucial for our country’s future.
Currently, Venezuela is reduced to two political and electoral options: socialism, proposed by the “Patriotic Pole” or so-called “oficialists”, led by candidate and President Hugo Chávez and his PSUV party (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), and the progressive vision, led by former Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, candidate for the alliance of all opposition parties, called the “Democratic Unity” (UD, for short).
Throughout the last decade, the Executive branch has vigorously promoted a socialist vision and project that has extended the President’s hold on the rest of the State’s institutions, including the National Electoral Council (CNE). This has put into question the separation and autonomy of the different branches of government, a situation which is also evident in the case of the CNE, as shown by the irregularities it exhibits in the performance of its functions and in the statements of some of its rectors.
It goes without saying that at this crucial crossroad in the life of the nation the CNE must perform its role as an impartial arbiter in an impeccable manner, fully guaranteeing the transparency of the electoral process from the first day of the electoral campaign until the conclusion of the voting process. The National Electoral Council’s performance in past elections has been less than transparent and important corrections must be made, as will be explained in this newsletter.
I. The Venezuelan Electoral System and the National Electoral Council – History and Context
According to official numbers from the CNE, on election day (October 7) 39,322 electoral tables will be functioning in 13,810 voting centers. Of the total number, 304 tables will be set up abroad, in 126 Venezuelan diplomatic venues around the world.
The number of authorized voters is 18,903,142, of which 100,495 will be voting abroad. It is important to highlight that for this year’s elections 1,248 new voting centers were created, which translates into 2,549 voting tables, many of them in rural areas that are difficult to reach or supervise.
The Venezuelan Electoral System uses electronic “in person” voting, including voting computers and specialized servers for scrutiny and totalization of the votes. It also uses a system to capture and compare fingerprints. However, up until the most recent elections (the parliamentary elections in 2010), these innovations have not sped up the official information regarding the results, as evidenced by:
– The first official announcement of partial results in 2010 was published with tardiness,several hours after the closing of the voting tables.The official numbers of some voting events took months to be published, and others, like those of the Constitutional Reform Referendum of 2007, are still unknown.
– The aforementioned electoral platform was substituted by the Integral Authentication System (SAI) for this year’s presidential elections.
II. Brief profiles of the CNE’s Rectors
2.1 Current Rectors
Five rectors make up the current CNE:
– Tibisay Lucena: President of the CNE since 2006, re-elected for the 2009-2013 term. Public opinion believes she is pro-officialism.
– Socorro Hernández: Ex-minister for the Popular Power of Science and Technology (2008-2009). Former director of state-owned CANTV. Associated by the public opinion as pro-officialism .
– Sandra Oblitas: Vice-president of the CNE for the 2009-2013 term. Public opinion also believes that she is pro-officialism.
– Tania D’amelio: Representative of the PSUV in the National Assembly for the state of Vargas (2000-2005 and 2006-2010 terms)
– Vicente Díaz: President of the Commission for Political Participation and Financing of the CNE (2006-2009). Public opinion associates him with the opposition.
2.2 Previous CNE Rectors
– Jorge Rodríguez: President of the CNE from 2005 to 2006. Was later designated as Venezuela’s Vicepresident (2007-2008). Currently Mayor of the Libertador Municipality in Caracas, and President Chavez’s head of campaign.
– Francisco Carrasquero: President of the CNE from 2003 to 2005. He handed to the Executive power the list of those requesting the holding of a referendum to revoke President Chavez of his duties. He was later named Vice President of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ). He is now frequently the Justice in charge of deciding the Tribunal’s electoral cases.
2.3 “Tascón List”
In 2004, as mentioned above, signatures were collected in order to begin the process to hold a referendum to revoke President Chavez of his duties. These signatures were made public through a PSUV deputy to the National Assembly, Luis Tascón, despite the fact that it was the CNE’s duty to maintain them as confidential.
Since then, these signatures have been used to retaliate against the Venezuelans that signed in favor of holding the referendum, especially against those that were public employees.
2.4 Identification Devices
2.4.1 Previous elections
In 2004, the Venezuelan electoral system started using the electronic platform with fingerprint identification. The goal was to stop the same voter from voting more than once. The fingerprint identification machines were set up at the entrance of every electoral center and, without being linked to the voting machines, allowed those in charge of following in real-time the flow of voters.
2.4.2 Elections 2012
The new “Integral Authenticy System” (“SAI”) establishes that the tables in each center must be linked to their own fingerprint identification machine. The CNE has not allowed independent audit processes to be carried out on this new electoral platform, creating doubts about the continued protection of the secrecy of the vote.
2.5 Voters Registration
In 2004 the CNE enabled a fast-track process for voter registration , which resulted in an increase of 20% of the voting population. Since then, the significant increase in the number of registered voters is out of proportion with historic rates of growth, and their possible correlation to the growth of the population in general has not been established, as the results of the 2011 National Census are only scheduled to be published in December.
2.5.1 An unaudited Voter Registry
In 2005, the Inter American Institute of Human Rights, in a joint project with its Center of Assessment and Electoral Promotion (IIDH/Capel) could not carry out a complete audit of the Voters’ Registry of the Venezuelan Electoral System.
The audit covered six modules, of which the last one was intended to compare the records of the Voters’ Registry with the corresponding birth certificates. However, CAPEL was not able to audit it and thus did not complete the work it had set out to do. Of the 12,820 birth certificates it had requested it received less than half, only 5,571 to be precise.
The following is an extract of the audit report: “There was a limitation on the scope of the audit due to not receiving the the information regarding the certified copies of the birth certificates of the sample. As a consequence, the IIDH/Capel abstained from any judgement or drawing any conclusion regarding this module”. The report also stated that “A proposal by the institutional counterpart (the CNE) to change the procedures of searching the sample was not acceptable to the IIDH/Capel”. [Unofficial translation]
2.6 Location of the new voting centers
The CNE has created 9,000 additional centers for future presidential elections. The reasons for this new geographical distribution have not been given to this date. As already mentioned above, the results of the last National Census, concluded at the end of 2011, won’t be published until next December.
2.7 Audits and Normative
The current Organic Law of Electoral Processes adopted in 2009 (LOPE), does no longer make any reference to the fact that the audits shall be done by independent bodies of recognized expertise.
2.8 Unresolved cases of those voting abroad
On January of the present year, US authorities declared the Venezuelan Consul in Miami, Livia Acosta, a “non grata person”, after finding reports linking her to an alleged Iranian plot against the US governments’ informatics systems. In retaliation, President Chávez ordered on January 13th the closure of the consulate were 23,000 voters were registered. They must now travel to the New Orleans consulate in order to exercise their voting rights.
2.9 Electoral Campaign 2012 Elections
The campaign for the October 7th presidential elections started officially on July 1st 2012.
2.9.1 State Resources
Even before the beginning of the campaign it has once more become evident that state resources, including money, vehicles and state radio and television time and space are systematically channeled by the government into activities of political proselytism.
Specially conspicuous is the abuse of nationwide “cadenas” (a term given to the presidential addresses to the nation and institutional messages – but really government propaganda – which must be transmitted on all radio and television networks, live, in compliance with the Social Responsibility Law of Radio and Television. Tibisay Lucena, president of the CNE, has declared that the Council does not have the faculties to regulate neither the “cadenas” nor these messages, but she has imposed a limit of three minutes daily on the electoral messages of the opposition.
2.10 Contextual Aspects
– There have been repeated insults and denigrating comments by the President of the Republic towards the candidate of the opposition, and he has continued with his polarizing speech against all those who do not follow him, of which he said, on June 24th, that “they are not Venezuelans”.
– The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) announced an embargo on the assets of Globovisión, as a way of forcing the payment of a punitive fine of more than two million Dollars imposed on this television network for reporting about a riot in the “El Rodeo” jail. It’s important to point out that this television network is the only one that’s openly against the government.
– Last month, the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) decided to give the direction, name and acronym of Patria Para Todos (PPT) and PODEMOS, two political parties members of the Democratic Unity (UD), to the minority members of the parties that are in favor of the government. With this decision both parties will now support the candidature of president Chávez instead of the candidature of Henrique Capriles Radonski.