Saturday, April 29, 2006

A new CNE? Same old, same old

For the past few weeks we have assisted to the show put up by the National Assembly electing, finally, and in a somewhat pseudo-constitutional way, a new Electoral Board (CNE). Any reason to be optimistic? None at all, of course. One of the reasons, by the way, that I did not bother much covering this show as more interesting stuff was happening elsewhere. (1)

Last Friday in a rather brief meeting, in spite of a pompous announcement of holding permanent session until the new board would be elected, the National Assembly named the 5 new rectors. The session was short enough to suggest that out of the 100 + finalists, the short list had been established long ago. Quite predictable. You can read in English a summary of the events that led to the nomination of that new CNE.

On Friday night when I learned that Tibisay Lucena was one of the 5 directors, I got confirmation that there was indeed a rat smell reaching my nostrils all along. The litmus test for this new group of 5 was going to be today at their first meeting: if Lucena became president today, then there was nothing to hope from that “new and improved” CNE.

Bingo! She was "elected" today.

The astute reader might say: "can't you give them at least a chance to prove that they have good intentions?" and my reply will be "No". Without even raising my voice, just a 'no' as a matter of fact. Why? Tibisay Lucena was brought to the CNE to assist Rodriguez, when this one was just one of the board members under Carrasquero. Then he was in fact the real president, Carrasquero being the mouth piece of the CNE. This one got his reward after working hard at ensuring a Chavez 'victory' in August 2004 by becoming a 12 year justice of the TSJ, a golden parachute of sorts. As a side comment, in that position for over more than a year he has failed to dazzle the country with any significant jurisprudence, not surprisingly. I even keep wondering how this non entity could even have made it to a law school teaching position.

Thus, as his own reward, Rodriguez became the CNE president: he was now the official chief, cashing in all possible voting machine contract he could think of while parading openly his pro Chavez position from the pulpit that should be the most impartial pulpit of the country. Tibisay Lucena, the woman in charge of executing the most important of Rodriguez dubious electoral initiatives (maneuvers? tricks?) got her reward by becoming a board member on her own. She must have worked hard at perfecting cheating mechanisms through the 2005 elections as she now is the only one of the past board to renew her appointment, and the presidency at that! For 7 years! She will even supervise Chavez 2012 reelection once the constitution is duly modified through a referendum also supervised by her.

Tibisay Lucena is bad news, through and through (2). From the rare appearances she does on TV you can see that she is ill at ease with the microphones and questioning, that she has a shifty look, that she avoids any direct reply. In short: I have never felt that she could be trusted for anything, even less than Rodriguez and that is to say a lot. She is, as we say in French "Un homme de main", the guy that does the dirty job behind the screens (3). I am actually amazed that they went ahead and nominated her, and even more amazed that they made her chairwoman! Probably sends a sign on how little important has the CNE become for Chavez now that he controls everything and that the abstentionist party is winning. I would not even be surprised if Chavez named Lucena just to flout his power to the world: “here! Look at that crook I put to run my elections! What are you going to do now? Suckers!”

What does this mean in practical terms? Nothing. Lucena has already built up the cheating system. She just needs to manage it and perhaps find ways to make it slightly more palatable in case international observers come back. She has no power, no authority, no matter what the constitution states. She is just there to receive the phone calls from Chavez and Rangel and execute the orders. Even the "opposition" nominee does not seem the kind to counter her except for the occasional show, à la Sobella Mejias. She will go down in history as the 'opposition' representative that facilitated the demise of that one, as an infamous spineless character that failed to show mettle except once, when she called Carter to make sure the signatures for the Recall Election petition were to be counted as the people wanted. It seems that after that, at some point she passed over to chavismo for all practical purposes.

What is the opposition going to do? The same thing: demand the right conditions to vote or threaten not to go. Lucena can do as she pleases, if a minimum of conditions are not met, the abstention will be again the winner in 2006. It is all in the hands of Chavez whether he wants to win fairly his reelection or if he wants to kill democracy once and for all.

Tibisay Lucena is just a symbol, a mouthpiece that is surely handsomely paid. She is nothing in the great scheme of things. I can bet anything that she will never be known as the “woman who restored trust in Venezuelan elections”.

No, it is up to Teodoro and company, and the people, to find ways to force Chavez to accept fair elections. This is not anymore a legal problem on the voting process, it is a political decision that must be dealt on a political level. Forget lawyers and meetings, they are useless at this point. Lucena and her mafia are just a freak show set up to distract.

PS: Written on Sunday PM. From the preliminary reports there is a general consensus within the opposition that the new CNE falls very short of the already less than moderate expectations that were held during the selection process. The word is simply: prove your independence. Some have even gone as far to state that the CNE was formed of 5 pro Chavez activists, without even a real "token" opposition. Tibisay Lucena starts with zero "honey moon", zero credit. Not that she seems to mind if you ask me....

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1) For those who love technicalities, the CNE is one of the 5 powers of Venezuela, a ridiculous invention of Chavez in his quest of “Bolivarian” pompousness. Roughly it is elected as follow: NGO and judicial and Law School faculties propose a list of candidates. These ones are screened by “the people” but in fact by a committee dominated by the National Assembly (already a fault there). Then out of those who make the cut, the National Assembly elected by a 2/3 vote the 5 board members for a 7 year period. With 100% of the National Assembly, the reader can intuit that hell would have frozen over before chavismo would have not controlled at least 3 out of 5 of the CNE, with two weak ones “against”. It seems that it is 4 for Chavez and a weak token for the rest.

And before anyone says that the opposition should have run in December to be able to participate more directly I would remind them that the CNE should have been named by the previous Assembly but since chavismo did not dispose of the 2/3 majority it stalled and sabotaged all until it sent the nomination to the Chavez controlled High Court, in total constitutional violation as such measures should have had a temporary character of a few months at best. But in its blinding cynicisms chavismo refused to even discuss the nomination of a new CNE until after the December 2005 election. Democracy anyone?

2) Lucena is already anticipating the backlash of her "election". Today, contrary to what a new president of the CNE would do in his/her first speech, to discuss new plans or to simply thank the people who entrusted to her the job, she already defended her administration even though she was not sworn in yet as the president! The lady does protest too much!!!......

3) According to Sumate, a majority of the new CNE are direct underlings of departing head Jorge Rodriguez. The mafia is solidly in place.

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