This weekend Venezuela, or rather the CNE, held the signature drive for next year possible Recall Elections. It was a total bust, reminding me of the words of Groucho Marx (?) "what if you threw a party and no one came?". I do not know if Groucho ever thought of these words but had he planned this weekend events to be utterly ridiculous he would not have succeeded any better than the Venezuelan Electoral Board, CNE.
Readers of this blog should not be surprised: in April 27 I had already predicted that the event would be a fiasco. Well, if it became noteworthy it is because it worked out so badly. As I am typing, of the hundred plus signature drives it is possible that at most a couple of them might end up in a recall election to be held in a couple of months, and they would be internal chavista affairs. Since I have already covered the mechanisms and the main reasons on why the Recall Election system in Venezuela was gutted of all meaning as a civil right, let's just review briefly what happened and the reactions of some players that seemed to be surprised by the lousy result.
Pathetically empty polling places. Only in some districts were there is an internal chavista mini civil war did the recall election signature drive held any appeal. In at least 90% of the cases, be the elected position belong to chavismo or the opposition, no one bothered: the attendants were spending their weekend playing domino or gossiping. In many districts, a majority of them it seems, the people "asking for the recall election" did not even send witnesses!!!!!
Why it failed?
The Tascon list
Since the Tascon list no one wants anymore to post his or her name to a piece of paper that could be used against you someday. The system set up by the CNE in 2004 during the recall election against Chavez in fact killed the secret of vote in Venezuela. No one, chavista or not, who is not out in the open with its politics will go and sign a Recall Election drive. For those who doubted that, well, the results of this week end demonstrate pathetically, yet dramatically, how the notion of democracy in Venezuela is all but dead.
There is no looking for excuses: the Tascon list and the obscene support and later casual dismissal by Chavez of that fascist tool has done more harm to Venezuelan democracy than perhaps anything else besides the take over of the Judicial power by Chavez and his minions. Nothing short of a severe punishment to Tascon and to the people who used that list to discriminate in Venezuela on political grounds could ever bring back trust in Venezuelan elections. For those not aware of this topic and the moral devastation it brought I have several links on the right hand of this blog.
The speciousness of the recall drives
But if this was not enough, the casual and out of touch with reality attitude that the CNE took in setting up this year election drive killed any chance of that democratic tool to be of any use.
To begin with, the CNE decided to regulate tightly what should be a spontaneous popular organization to remove elected officials that do not please their subjects. In fact the rules set up backfired badly as some pro Chavez obscure organization did set up the large majority of the recall elections. Through legal artifacts they called for them without demonstrating that there was some popular feel for such elections. Thus from the very start the recall election process of this year looked more like an internal chavista knife throwing contest than any justified popular corrective measure.
Why did the CNE fell into that trap? Well, I suppose that no one went to set up that trap really, but trap it was. The reason why the CNE so carelessly went ahead even though early signs were pointing out to a potential bust was that the CNE tried to correct for its abuses of 2004. As all chavista employees, of which the CNE is just a branch, they thought that their will was enough for any correction, and perhaps that Chavez would waste his political capital on the recall elections. But RCTV and students in the middle, Chavez had much bigger fry to deal with than some local lousy officials and the CNE angst.
The CNE board thus demonstrated that 1) it has no political savvy, 2) it is incompetent and 3) they are mere bureaucrats that work under orders: when the orders do not come, they flounder!
The CNE should be asked why it allowed such a failure, why it spent so much money on something that weeks ago was predicted to be a bust. Because it cost a lot of money: employees paid extra to work weekends; equipment rental; the finger printing machines (which by themselves are a counter incentive in Venezuela); security personnel; food; etc.... millions of dollars gone to waste.
The uselessness of it all, anyway
The Venezuelan voter is no fool after all, even if it accepts Chavez to buy his or her vote. The mechanism set by the CNE was so ridiculous that no one could get bothered. After all, if you sign today, with all the risks that are attached to it, the vote would take place only later this year, BARELY a year before that official that you so dislike must face reelection. So, why take a chance when at most you cut down the term of the said official from 4 to 3 years?
The CNE is the only one to blame for this. In 2003, to help Chavez, it dismissed the signatures taken by the opposition in early 2003. The argument then was that signatures could not be taken BEFORE the midterm, as people needed to reach a mid term to evaluate fairly the elected official, in this case Chavez. So, having to accept a ridiculous precedent, the CNE last year decided that it would not hear of any recall election petition before October 31 2006. And since the presidential election was in December, the CNE servilely decided that nothing should cloud the presidential election and thus nobody would be allowed to present a petition before sometime in 2007, AFTER the CNE finally got around to set up rules that it should have set BEFORE the 2004 Recall Election.
In fact, we can see the the CNE is more than incompetent: a case can be made that the CNE has been actively involved in gutting the civil right that petitioning for a recall election is.
The civil right that appeared in the 1999 constitution as to subject elected officials to recall elections is dead. Tascon and the CNE have effectively killed this for good. Whatever hope of recovery that some chavista had (the opposition stayed clear from it, knowing full well the implications of 2004), it was more than smashed today. We had Tibisay Lucena trying to put the blame elsewhere pretending that it was not for the CNE to promote these signatures drive. Was not her job, as CNE head, to verify that the petitions submitted were serious petitions? That real people were backing them?
But even worse, pathetic and even despicable, was Jose Vicente Rangel words today trying to put the blame on the opposition!!!!! The ex-vice president, the one that allowed application of the Tascon list in his offices in 2003, said that the opposition should have promoted these drives. Forgetting to mention that the opposition did very few petitions, the large bulk coming from chavismo itself. And forgetting even more conveniently to observe that the petitions against opposition officials were failing equally to the anti chavista petitions! Poor Jose Vicente, he will say anything for a laugh!
But the truth is that now Venezuelans know very well that the only power that truly matters is the one of Chavez and that there is no point wasting time, energy and money on underlings, elected or appointed. Same difference. By ignoring this weekend signature process, the Venezuelan people in fact acknowledges that Venezuela is not a democracy anymore!