Before discussing again European topics, here is the 4th newsletter of the Venezuelan Students Movement “Operation Transparency”. It summarizes the most important developments regarding the election process in Venezuela of the first and second week of August (Wednesday 1st – Wednesday 15th).
According to the latest polls, electoral trends as of mid July show growing support for Henrique Capriles Radonski, the Democratic Unity (MUD) candidate. On the other hand, the intention to vote for President Chávez seems to be stagnating; moreover according to some polls he’s losing votes amongst the indecisive voters to Henrique Capriles. Therefore, as October elections approach and the intention to vote for Capriles gains traction, tension regarding the entire electoral process is expected to rise. Under such conditions, the National Electoral Council (“CNE” after its initials in Spanish) is more than ever called upon to remain an impartial institution throughout the electoral process, and that it ensures that all electoral rules and regulations are strictly observed. In this situation of growing tension, the glaring absence of credible international observers enjoying the confidence of both sides is becoming painfully evident.
1. Electoral Process Simulation
The CNE held its first electoral simulation Sunday August 5th, with the objective to test all operative processes and the effectiveness of voting machines, including that of the Integrated Authentication System (SAI), the transmission of data, the “totalization” procedures, as well as all other procedures not evaluated previously. (1) A total of 226,293 voters – approximately 1.2% of the total of registered voters – were called upon to be part of the simulation process. Polling stations opened at 8:00 AM and remained open until just about 3:00 PM. Approximately a total of 55 voting centers -of the 13,683 existing centers in the country- were operational. The Integrated Authentication System (SAI) consists of a device that verifies the identity of electors through their fingerprints. It is the first time this technology is used by the CNE. (2) In Caracas only 3 voting centers were opened, with a total of 43 polling stations for a record of 22,609 electors. (3) Generally, the process was found to be quick and organized. Nevertheless, Vicente Bello, Henrique Capriles’ campaign representative for the CNE, made the point that only voting machines were tested and not the entire functioning of the SAI. He also pointed out less than perfect coordination between the CNE and the Armed Forces, as they did not stop the followers of President Chávez from distributing propaganda and intimidating voters.
Meanwhile, CNE Principal Socorro Hernández, offered a positive declaration regarding the simulation, stating that “all of the reports indicated that the simulation went by perfectly, we counted with the presence of all members involved in the process and we verified the assistance of electoral operators at the appointed time, which permitted the opening of the voting centers at 8:00 AM without any problem”. (4)
The second simulation of the electoral process is scheduled for August 26th, only this time all registered voters will be able to participate (18,903,143 voters). Moreover, for the first time, it will use the same electoral ballot board that will be used in the October election (exactly the same layout of candidates and parties). Furthermore, around 1.553 electoral centers will be functioning, with more than 5,000 polling stations (5). Therefore, the simulation will emulate presidential elections with a representative sample of Venezuelan voters. Nevertheless, the CNE will not release any result, either officially or informally.
2. Controversy over the tricolor cap
The CNE demanded that candidate Henrique Capriles remove from his wardrobe any patriotic symbol, specifically a cap with colors and stars of the Venezuelan flag, stating that using the cap was an “open disrespect” of the electoral rulebook. The CNE’s President, Tibisay Lucena, threatened to “proceed with administrative inquests against the opposition’s campaign group”. Armando Briquet, Capriles’ campaign chief, declared that the electoral organism had not sent any written notification that prohibits the use of the aforementioned cap (6). Meanwhile, the President and candidate for reelection, Hugo Chávez, expressed that “the problem is that the bourgeoisie ignores the referee (…) if they do not follow the rules they will be kicked out of the game”. Nevertheless, he continues to use clothing and campaign material with patriotic symbols, about which the CNE has not said anything yet.
(For some reason, I can’t insert the pictures within this article; you can type on Google “Chavez heart of my country” and “Henrique Capriles Radonski cap”.)
3. CNE prohibits Ciudadanía Activa’s commercials (Citizens in Action)
Sandra Oblitas, Vice-President of the CNE, proclaimed on July 30th the prohibition of Ciudadanía Activa TV spots. In these very brief videos, the NGO reminded what is stipulated by law regarding the use of public funds for campaigns, pointing out the violations that have been made. However, the CNE Vice-President has argued that the TV spots were “not previously authorized tools of electoral campaigning” (7). Meanwhile, the executive secretary of the Democratic Unity (MUD), Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, declared that “any citizen has the right to criticize the government or the opposition, and that cannot be considered an electoral campaign. (8).
Andrés Velázquez, candidate for governor of the state of Bolívar, reported an order to close the Caicara del Orinoco Airport, given by the current governor, Francisco Rangel Gómez, only 2 days before the planned visit by candidate Henrique Capriles as part of his “town by town” campaign. Velázquez stated that this situation amounted to “sabotage” against Capriles, and that it constituted an “abuse of power” and a “clearly unfair practice” since the airport had not required any repair work that justified its closure. Also, he explained that this was the only way of reaching the town.
5. Opinion Polls
The opinion polling firm Consultores 21 showed in its biweekly re-count that Capriles now has a 4-point advantage over his opponent, a new result from previous studies. The difference, according to this poll, is Capriles 48% vs. Hugo Chávez 44% of the intention to vote. Previous results by the same firm had reflected a virtual tie, 45,9% for Chávez and 45,8% for Capriles; the candidate of the opposition has gained 3% while Chávez has lost 1%. (9) On the other hand, polling firm 21st Century Social Research Group owned by Mr. Jesse Chacon, a former Chávez Minister of the Interior and Justice, has published a study in which candidate Chávez, leads polls with 56% of the intention to vote, 27 points ahead of candidate Capriles Radonski, who would enjoy the support of only 29% of the electorate. (10)