Friday, August 01, 2003

Recall Election, not California style
July 31, 2003

Today July 31 somehow marks the end of a cycle. On August 19 Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president, will reach the half mark of his 6 years term. According to the new 1999 constitution, the opposition will be allowed to call for a recall election, or in Spanish, Referendum Revocatorio. Considering what the thread of Venezuelan history has been these last years one can expect to see many a heady day in the near future.

As luck as it, California is going through a traumatic recall election of its own. It will be interesting, on occasion, to compare the political behavior of both entities. But before starting this occasional series of reports, today it would be good to just review the legal technicalities behind the Revocatorio.

According to Article 72 of the constitution, any elected official can be recalled after the following requirements are met:
* The official has reached the half mark of his/her term.
* 20% or more of the registered voters of the particular electoral district (the whole of Venezuela for Chavez) must sign a petition that is addressed to the Electoral Council (CNE).
* If the valid signatures do indeed reach the 20% mark, the CNE has to call for a referendum within 30 to 60 days (this period is not quite clear yet).

If these requirements are fulfilled, the CNE calls for the election. For the official to be recalled the following requirement will have to be met:
* At least 25% of the electorate must vote.
* The numbers of “yes” votes must be equal or larger than the votes the elected official received at the previous election.

A complete information page is available, but in Spanish.

Which are the numbers for Chavez?
* 20% of the electorate means that 2.500.000 people must sign for the Revocatorio, which in practical terms means that about 3.000.000 people must sign up to make sure that 2.500.000 signatures are valid (people sign twice, people not registered to vote sign anyway, etc...)
* Chavez was elected with 3.757.773 votes in 2000, thus the minimum number of needed Yes votes (without forgetting that the No votes must be lower).
* And of course 3.125.000 people must cast a vote.

Completing these requirements normally should be a difficult task and the new Constitution meant it, since making recall elections too easy would create political instability. However, what is surprising is that the signatures have been collected already, and more than 4.000.000 of them. What is even more noteworthy is the attitude of the Chavez officials that are clearly running scared. Among their multiple strategies to forestall an election that all polls show as unwinnable today, one is to say that signatures can be collected only after August 19 (thus invalidating the ones from El Firmazo). Another one is that people should go personally to the CNE to sign to make sure signatures are valid. Imagine a 2.500.000 people line up…… Scarier are threats of posting paid thugs at the entrances of popular districts to make sure that people stay home on election day, or some other type of convenient violence. It should make for a few interesting observations for the next few weeks. Keep tuned.

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