The Venezuelan Electoral Board decided today to reject the signatures submitted by the opposition to request a recall referendum for President Hugo Chavez. The expected decision was based on a number of technicalities, which will certainly be challenged by someone in the opposition. Prominently among them, the CNE cited that the request for a referendum has to be addressed to the Electoral body, which was not done in the petition submitted by the opposition. Additionally, the CNE ruled that the gathering of the petition was untimely, colliding with the time frame established by the Constitution for requesting a recall referendum. Finally, the CNE said the data contained in the petition itself was insufficient.
Rumors of the negative decision by the CNE were widespread all week, as the recommendation by the legal department of the electoral body had leaked to the press. Súmate and the Democratic Coordinator have already drawn plans to gather the signatures anew, an event which is now planned for September 28th., as long as the CNE issues the regulations before that date, which it ahs promised to do.
The decision falls within the Government’s strategy of delaying the recall referendum using legal maneuvers. In this case, the law limited the length of the possible delay by the fact that the CNE had to reply to the request for the referendum within thirty days.
From the point of view of the opposition the decision might actually be quite positive, despite the delay it implies. By gathering the signatures again, the opposition will adjust the petition to the CNE’s requirements, making it more difficult for the Chavistas to question it legally later, and in effect shielding the petition from legal questioning. Similarly, by holding a new “Firmazo”, where the signatures will be massively gathered on a single day, that public display will become in itself a judgment on the Government. In February, the opposition gathered over 3 million signatures of which Súmate certified 2.8 million in its audit; this is 20% more signatures than required to validly request a referendum. Given the increased dissatisfaction and frustration with the Government and the continued deterioration of the economy, the opposition might gather more signatures this time than the votes necessary to recall Chavez’ mandate. Under the Bolivarian Constitution more voters have to vote for the recall than the number of votes received by the officer when he was elected.
I will comment more on the decision tomorrow when I have the full text. I am concerned about some of the reasons given, it seems to me that technicalities not previously defined by the law have been considered more important than the will and rights of close to three million people.