Monday, March 15, 2004

A judicial ping pong game in Venezuela: has the electoral fraud blown up Chavez 's nose?
More on today's events

As I try to make sense of the events of these past days I have been reminded of a famous day in French history, during the minority of one of the King Louis. There was a series of court intrigues to obtain the regency using judicial procedures that resulted one day into everybody thinking that they had won the game, when in fact they had lost it: La Journée des Dupes, the day of the fooled ones. Indeed last Friday one judicial branch went off on week end thinking that it had blocked the other one. Only to find today that the blocked branch swung back and smashed the previous attempt. Actually the smash today was so convincing that I wonder if the other branch did not on purpose sabotage its action, to try to pretend to please Chavez while sinking him. That or they are incompetent and overplayed their hand. All is possible in Venezuela.

The judicial system as of 1999 has a supreme court, TSJ, composed of 20 members divided in equal chambers. One chamber is formed by 5 judges and takes on constitutional matters. Its ruling must be taken AT LEAST 3 to 1. In other words 4 judges must attend the seance. Last Friday only three judges emitted a ruling that forbade the chamber dealing on electoral matters to rule on appeals deposed in front of it. That Electoral Chamber is formed by three judges and its decisions must be taken 2 to 1. The Electoral Chamber today decided to rule anyway declaring that what the Constitutional Chamber sent them last week was illegal. And rule they did. They canceled many of the provisions taken by the Electoral Board CNE, making in fact the Recall Election all but certain. All the petty measures painfully taken by the CNE to diminish the total signatures collected, all the post-act modifications of the rules to that effect, all the sloppy work, all the delays and treacheries were declared void and the CNE was told to move on with the Recall Election process. It remains that chavismo has to find a way to cancel at least 700 000 signatures out of 1 300 000 contested signatures by the end of March to legally stop the Recall Election. Any other way will be illegal. That is the extent of the alleged "megafraud" that Chavez had been trumpeting all along. Now he has to prove it or desist.

Here are the appropriate links for you to check details, a I have simplified the tale and rounded numbers.

The story, in English, in El Universal

The ruling by the Electoral Chamber

The story in Spanish

The two Chambers telling each other that they lied

The satisfaction of the opposition with the ruling

The suspension of tomorrow's march of the opposition, as requested by the Carter Center and the OAS to avoid unnecessary provocation

But in case you still think that Chavez was playing fair play. We were greeted today with two piece of news that show the coercion used by the administration. This while the Constitutional Chamber was trying to knock out the Electoral Chamber. The comptroller General, long silent, the guys supposed to pursue all corruption cases suddenly woke up. For what? To find fault with potential popular opposition candidates and try to stop them from running in the local elections planned for later this year. Of course all pro Chavez candidates are models of honesty. Story in English by the way.

In addition a couple of hundred of workers from Caracas subway are threatened with being fired because they signed for the Recall Election, something seen in other state industries and offices! Meaning of course that the government is going to try to have them recant their signatures.

I would not be ready to dismiss Chavez's chances to stop the recall election, yet. Certainly he seems to have received a very hard knock today, but he surely has a few judicial tricks. I use the word "tricks" as I am rather convinced that the next moves of Chavez are now outside the legal path. They might apparent legality but they will be taken in the frame of a confrontation of powers, and he has the guns and the money, two natural factors that make their holders think that they can get away with it. Not to mention that one thing he does not have, scruples.

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PS: keep in mind the lengthy table of advantages and disadvantages from each side of the conflict. I posted it yesterday and you might need to return to it in the coming days to understand the new developments.


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