Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Busted! The OAS trashes the Venezuelan elections!

The international observers, the two who matter, have emitted their preliminary report today. The least we can say is that chavismo has been busted for all its electoral treachery.

Now, before I give some of the highlights, it is important to keep in mind something: unless the violations are definitely gross, such as witnessing direct ballot stuffing, serious international agencies are not easily going to discard elections they observe. Simply put, international diplomacy cannot allow that. It does happen on occasion such as when some withdraw or threatens to their observation, such as was the case in the last Fujimori elections in Peru. But if these evenst are rather rare, these observations do have a way to write up a report that says a lot when one reads in between lines.

In Venezuela the only observers that matter are of course the Organization of the American State and the European Union. Let’s start with the OAS one.

I was actually a little bit surprised at the strength of this report. Visibly they did not like at all what they saw, and from both sides. Here are some excerpts and my “in between lines” reading.

The Mission deployed its 45 observers in 22 states of the country to observe the elections through a random sampling of polling centers.

The Mission would like to underscore the climate of calm that was evident during the elections [all went as it should have gone during the day], The day ended with a participation level of approximately 25% of all potential voters.

The mechanical part of the election, that is the actual part of voting and counting the ballots as accorded prior the election was held as accorded.

Nevertheless, based on its direct observation on election day, the Mission would like to point out that in several polling centers it was noted that a significant number of voters showed they did not understand or had difficulties with the voting process. A good number of voters asked the poll workers or political party observers present to accompany them and help them cast their votes with the electronic ballot. Such practices could damage the secrecy of the vote.

Do I need to comment on that one? Yes indeed, the process is difficult for a country where Mision Robinson for alphabetization notwithstanding many still like to know the “color” of their party before they go to vote, as in old days where all ballots were colored pieces of paper.

In the majority of polling centers observed by the OAS, the polls closed between 5 and 7 p.m., even in several cases when no voters were in line, which was not in compliance with the schedule established by law. The decision was taken by the CNE leadership for weather-related reasons in five states, and in the rest of the country on the grounds that the polling centers should remain open for 10 hours. In practice, poll workers and members of Plan República were the ones who decided the time the polls would close. These circumstances helped to create uncertainty and suspicion. It is worth noting that the extension of the voting hours coincided with an intensification of the governing party’s campaign to increase participation in the final hours.

This is extremely grave as the OAS admits implicitly that the observation of SUMATE that 30% of the cast votes happened during the last hour or so of the voting day!!! Just as this voter even hinted at from watching across the street from his house! In other words, for those who still do not get it: the government somehow knew who had voted or not by early afternoon and managed to make a big drive in mid afternoon to recruit reluctant followers to go and vote with voting hours prolonged AGAISNT the accorded closing time. Is there a more delicate way to describe electoral fraud when everyone knew that the only number that would matter would be the number of the abstention?

The Mission laments the public statements made by a high-level leader of the governing party that sought to coerce the participation of government employees. This statement was denounced by all sectors of the country.

Need I comment this also? The video of Iris Varela is in one of my past blogs already, and I put it here again. But this goes beyond: it also alludes indirectly to all the coercion done in the days before the election. It also alludes that Iris Varela should be punished if the government wants to demonstrate that it means to clean up its act. Ah! The joys of diplomatese!

In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities; between the government and the opposition; between the government and the privately owned news media; and within the opposition parties themselves. A climate of polarization and political tension was also perceived.

Duh! But what is grave here is “This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities”. The OAS saw it was not a matter of media wars or the US influencing the opposition. They observed that the Venezuelan citizenry is EFFECTIVELY divorced from the words of what should be a non partisan system. Astounding!

[stress on the opposition distrust of the CNE] Additionally, certain inconsistencies and gaps in the electoral law were observed, which reduced legal assurances and which suggest the need for a rigorous reflection on these laws.

Despite the important guarantees granted by the CNE, at the request of this significant segment of the opposition, this segment decided in the end not to participate in the elections. It is worth noting that the guarantees that were offered included the elimination of the digital fingerprint machines and of the great majority of the electronic voting notebooks, an increase in audits after the polls closed, the granting of additional space in the news media for electoral advertising, and the presence of witnesses and international observers in all phases of the electoral process.

As objective observers they of coruse need to point out to the opposition flaw. However, observe that these are milder and come after describing already many irregularities committed by the regime. My perception is that in a diplomatic way the OAS says that it did understand, if it did not approve, that the opposition decided to bail out even when the digital fingerprint machines were unplugged.

Similarly, the efforts undertaken by the CNE in fulfillment of its mandate to automate the vote are worth mentioning. Nonetheless, given its complexity, the system requires permanent audits as well as technical and human safeguards, with the effective participation of all political parties, in order to generate the necessary confidence.

No need to elaborate.

Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Although the right not to participate is recognized, it is of concern that due to the withdrawal of the opposition, an important portion of the citizenry is left without representation in the National Assembly. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process, so that it can loyally participate in the democratic system.

As we say in Venezuela: “mas claro no canta un gallo (clearer does not sing the cock).

During the election campaign, the Mission observed proselytizing activities on the part of high-level public officials, at the national as well as the state and municipal levels, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.

This is another extremely important observation: the OAS was able to observe the abuse of public monies and supplies used to favor chavista candidates.

[observations on the need for both sides to restore dialogue] The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.

In other words, the OAS recognizes that Venezuela is a mess and we should start from scratch to get real elections again!!!! Stunning! STUNNING!!!!!

No wonder Jorge Rodriguez, Chavez and the other cheer leaders were so upset today, so defiant! They have been busted like brats and play the tough game. Unfortunately for them it seems that the OAS might start treating them as spoiled brats anytime soon…..

(In another post the UE report.)

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