Wednesday, September 10, 2003

What is a valid signature?

Wednesday 10, September 2003

This morning talk shows and papers are abuzz with the distinct possibility that the electoral council, CNE, is about to invalidate the recall election petition. This should not be a surprise as many people predicted it from within the ranks of the opposition itself. Indeed it was a heady debate before August 20 as to what to do with the signatures collected in February 2: submit them or wait for the new CNE to collect them again? These signatures were vulnerable to delay tactics from the Chavez administration (collected too early, no finger prints, no supervision, and what not). The opposition decided still to submit the signatures to the CNE. If anything, this probably accelerated the resolve of the High Court to name the new CNE. The judicial imbroglio that would have followed submission of the signatures to a “temporary” CNE was too daunting for the High Court. Better replace the old CNE with a new one and let them deal with it.

Now things have changed. The CNE named late August is now legally recognized by all (if questioned by many). As an independent power under the 1999 constitution it is now the only umpire of the political situation, for good or bad. If it decides to validate the petition, then Chavez will have to provide the means for the referendum. If it does not validate the petition it will have to hand at the same time the protocol on how electoral petitions signatures must be collected and how the questions must be drafted. Then the opposition will have to collect the signatures again and all the government excuses will be over.

A win-win situation? Might just be.

In all the brouhaha that emanates from the government, there is a direct single objective, delay or annul the recall election. There is one thing though that cannot be hidden: it was for all to see on February 2 that people stood in line, sometime for hours under the sun, to sign a recall election petition. This is a “notorious” fact and thus exempt of any “impeachment”. The will of the people has been expressed and the CNE can only delay that expression by creating the legal framework. Instead of having the referendum in December this year we will have it in January or February. Anything else will be an attack on the constitution and the civil rights of the people. It does not matter how Chavez lawyers tweak the laws: the signatures are valid, no matter what, even if the collection form is not valid.

But these delaying strategies might be very counterproductive for the Chavez administration. By successfully lobbying to have the original petition voided, they expose themselves to the opposition organizing an even bigger and better “Firmazo” that this time will be observed closely by all sorts of foreign correspondents. If the opposition is able to collect 3-4 million signatures in a few days, what better platform to launch the recall election campaign? How could Chavez explain to the world that millions in the street exerting peacefully their constitutional rights are reckless lawbreakers?

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