What is the CNE problem
The Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE is since 1999 a “fifth” power of the state. As such it is supposed to be independent and impartial since the fairness in naming the other 4 powers depend on how transparently the CNE acts. But the CNE has repeatedly failed to demonstrate its impartiality and fairness. This IS the reason why the December abstention total is “officially” 75% while many believe it went above the 80%.
How did the CNE become a problem
By now books could be written on how the CNE became the most riled at institution in Venezuela. Even more possibly than the presidency who at least had an honest start in 1998. The CNE never had an honest start. In fact it had to be named by the high court of Venezuela in 2003 because chavismo was unable to abide by its own constitution which demanded that the National Assembly reached a compromise to ensure a 2/3 CONSTITUTIONAL majority to name the 5 board directors of the CNE. Thus the high court, controlled already by chavismo, named the 5 directors ensuring that the key positions inside the CNE would be held by dedicated chavista servants. From then on it all went downhill.
The partiality showed by the new CNE during the Recall Election process of 2003-2004 was even denounced by the observers of the time. That election of August 15 went on only because the opposition to Chavez decided to go ahead anyway.
Since then the CNE has been changed, unconstitutionally again, and Jorge Rodriguez who was chavismo real point man inside is now the head. Listing all the disparaging comments that Rodriguez has proffered against anyone that criticizes his conduction of the CNE would be a long, very long list. Describing the cozy relationship he enjoys with chavismo would be rich in examples. To top it off last February 2 he attended a pro Chavez, political campaign act where he was certainly not the last one to applaud the “successes” of Chavez.
It is thus perfectly understandable that on December 4th 2005, at least half of the chavista electorate did not bother in going to the polls: they knew that Rodriguez would make sure Chavez would get his sought 2/3 majority. In fact the cheating and disheartening emanating from the CNE is so thick that none of the opposition candidates that remained in the run managed to get a single seat in the 167 Assembly while the null votes percentage was so abnormally high that some people suspect that that is why the CNE has yet to publish the final official tally of that election since it might reveal pockets of discontent that the regime would like us to ignore.
Why was the CNE allowed to degrade so much
There is something that must be clear for all: Chavez is not a democrat. Chavez will never put himself in a position of losing an election. Chavez will be removed from office by either violent means or by something like an orange revolution. This is why he has allowed, he has promoted the establishment of a subservient CNE.
But he needs a legal cover, and he has been more or less successful because we had to wait for the observation of the Decemebr 4th election to finally have people outside of Venezuela realizing what is really going on here. The reports of the OAS and the EU were quite clear, from the Tascon list transformed into the Maisanta program who lists all Venezuelan citizens as pro or con Chavez to the expose on the incredible use of public resources to promote chavista candidate, all can be found there. Let’s not forget that elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy: chavismo is demonstrating this truism amply, even perversely as the more it wins elections the less democratic it looks.
The only reason that it has worked and that the international community has not taken a strong position is that the cheating is not known if it made Chavez victory or if it just enhanced it. After all, polls do favor a chavista victory so even if all cheating were controlled it would not change much the equation: 100% or 51% when signing oil contracts make no difference to investors (though it makes a difference for many other).
What can the opposition do?
The CNE is not a problem easy to go around. The 100% chavista assembly will soon produce a new CNE duly voted by a 2/3 majority but more than likely illegal as it will rig the formation of the selection committee to make sure that all candidates are for Chavez camp. Oh! Certainly, they might want to put one of the 5 directors from the opposition ranks, there are always people like Sobella Mejia that are willing to pretend to impartiality as long as they keep cashing a fat paycheck. But this time the opposition parties will not recognize it, just as Sobella has become a pathetic figure. It really does not matter: there is no way, as Chavez is hitting serious bumps in his reelection effort, as he daringly seeks the 10 million votes, that he will risk a CNE that might try to weakly control his excesses.
But should that be a problem for the opposition? No. Here is why.
The opposition should go through the legal hoops of registering candidates and what not. It should dutifully record ALL of Chavez electoral violations even if no tribunal will act on them.
But at the same time the opposition should make clear the following:
- Its candidate will reserve until the last minute his participation or not to the final contest.
- It should demand, no discussion, that the voting is done without machines, or ONLY the voting ones if they can be inspected at random by opposition technicians JUST BEFORE THE VOTE, in presence of international observers, numerous enough and recognized by BOTH sides. After all if Chile can conduct a pen and paper election and know the results in a couple of hours why not in Venezuela?
- It should not seat down with the CNE for discussions unless there is a witness from outside. And it should only seat down to discuss the minimum conditions for a fair vote, nothing less. Let the CNE talk to whomever wants to listen to them.
- The minimum conditions should be: no machines, and certainly no finger printing machines; a complete revision of the electoral rolls by truly independent auditors; equal airtime for Chavez and the opposition candidate, INCLUDING cadenas; a strictly enforced voting hour system; the mandatory presence of at least two opposition witnesses at EVERY voting center; that the army stays OUTSIDE OF ANY VOTING CENTER and is limited to receive or provide duly sealed material, not intervene in any function of the voting center unless civil unrest or natural disaster were to happen
Thus the line is clear for the opposition:
- Do not worry about the CNE.
- Document your grievances in a clear and understandable way for foreign observers.
- Organize your campaign by getting a program and a candidate acquiring the credibility you are currently lacking (not that Chavez is credible for other eyes but at least he has his act together).
- Set your conditions in a legal and logical frame and stick to them, even it if requires that at the last minute your candidate will withdraw and leave Chavez alone.
- Serve the CNE notice of that possibility.
- And wait and see if Chavez blinks or not. Do not be afraid: Chavez NEEDS an opponent.
And it would not hurt to put Sumate in the forefront, even naming them your official representative to the CNE on technical matters. Let the CNE refuse to receive them and show to all their open impartiality.
And what if everything fails?
It is very simle: you cannot do anything if you have not mobilized your followers and convinced the other side that it is better for them to play according to the rules than cheat their way to victory.
The opposition needs to put its act together first. And this brings attention to the abstention movement. Bemoaning like some do that "we should not run, not present any candidate, not do anything until a real CNE is named" is a useless and infantile position. Do you think for a second that chavismo will at this stage in the game be a nice chavismo and give you an ideal CNE?
Abstention is good ONLY if it comes with a plan and so far this blogger as yet to see a real plan. Abstention is only good if it comes as a threat, but a last minute threat just as Toledo did in Peru. But Toledo did run, Toledo did have a plan and only when Fujimori cheating was too obvious did he retire.
So to the abstention/350 party: either you come up with a better plan or at least allow the opposition to organize. Abstention worked in December BECAUSE political parties followed it, justifiedly. But if the abstentionist party does not plan to shoot its way up to Miraflores Palace it might do well to offer an alterante plan unless it risks to fall into irrelevance and nail the last nail to the opposition coffin.