Last Saturday I suggested that the decision by the Comision Nacional Electoral (CNE) last Friday, could simply indicate that there was a trap for us waiting to happen. Today, I feel that the country’s democracy may be at a tuning point if the proposed regulations for recall referenda by the CNE, which were revealed today, are approved as they are in tomorrow’s session. The regulations, drawn by the CNE’s legal department, essentially would make it practically impossible to have a referendum take place in any reasonable time frame, would make it difficult for the opposition to gather the signatures necessary and steal the initiative of the petition drive away from the people and into the hands of the Government. Basically, the CNE controls the process and turns the petition drive into an election, simply perverting what it is supposed to be. The proposal shows that the pro-Chavez forces simply have no scruples and are willing to disguise their attempts to block the recall referendum with the appearance of legality. Here is an analysis of the regulations being proposed and what they really might mean in practice. Keep in mind throughout this article that the Venezuelan Constitution establishes limits of time for the handling of a petition for a referendum:
- Article 14: The request to initiate the procedure for a recall referendum ….must be presented to the CNE fulfilling the norms established. Thus, one can not gather signatures at will; one has to ask permission to do it. Does that sound like a petition for a referendum?
- Article 15: The request will be made in writing ….by the groups promoting the recall which have to be registered in the CNE. As determined last week, now you have to register to request a referendum, but this means you have to declare yourself a political party, so other groups can not do it. I think this is not democratic and makes a mockery of the term “popular initiative” used in the Constitution to describe how a recall can be activated.
- Article 19: ….The CNE will have three working days to accept the request. Now, this is weird why should this step exist at all? What are the grounds for saying no? Is this one more block on the way? In any case, it takes three working days, so the count is + 3 working days so far.
- Article 20: The CNE will establish the electoral centers as centers for the collection of signatures and the duration of time under which the signature collection process will take place, which in any case, will fall under the supervision of the CNE. Very sneaky. First of all, the CNE controls the whole process, second, it establishes the time frame, it could be just one day or it could be many. Third, the CNE will say where the signature drive may take place. Thus, nothing will be under the control of those making the petition drive. In fact, just the fact that petitions have to be signed at a specific place will be a big limitation in the barrios where people might be intimidated into not signing the petition by chavista thugs. In fact, in the February drive, many people from the barrios went to other areas to sign up. Additionally, the CNE could assign centers in such a way as to make it difficult for the opposition to get the required signatures. It could also choose public schools, for example, as the places where the gathering of the signatures takes place, but the Minister of Education could argue that this can not happen until the next vacation time as it has happened in the past. This could add time to the process, but can not be quantified. At least two months more.
- Article 21: The form will have….…2) signature and fingerprint. You be the judge, never in the country’s history have both been required. What is the objective? To intimidate? Database? Absolutely ludicrous.
- Article 22: The petition will be filled and signed at the electoral centers in the presence of CNE officials designated for such an effect by the CNE. The groups promoting or not the petition drive may ask to have witnesses or observers. Now, this is absolutely ludicrous. Just by accepting this, the CNE will be able to argue that it needs time to prepare the officials as well as giving time to those opposing the drive to “prepare” their people for the event. This alone could take weeks and it certainly sounds almost like an election in itself, which is not supposed to be.
- Article 24: a) The data will be transcribed… Imagine three million names, numbers transcribed. How long will this take. Weeks it’s my guess. b) The data will be validated. i. e. every single name will be checked, this was not done in the referenda to hold a Constituent Assembly or approve the Constitution. Is this fair? Whatever happened to sampling? Another month at least.
- Article 27. Ten days following the transcription of the data any voter…. i.e. Add ten days to the undetermined time to transcribe the data…..Ten more days
- Article 30: The recall referendum will take place …..within 120 days of the approval in the case of national referenda. Now, the Constitutions says it is supposed to be ninety days tops, the CNE wants to add 60 days only with this article. 120 more days.
Total additional time 3 days+ten days+two months+one month+four months=7 months ten days and three days, minimum! We are talking June 2004. Compare all of this with the opposition gathering the signatures in its own drive Oct. 3d. 4d. and 5th. , handing the signatures on the 15th. and forcing the CNE to hold the referendum as the law establishes within ninety days of that day or find a reason to reject it., i.e. January 15th.
Thus, the total time is not only uncertain but we may be talking many months with all the uncertainties, times and technicalities involved. Recall also that the law says that after Aug. 19th. 2004 the Vice-President, who is named by the President by decree, becomes the President is Chavez is recalled. The timeline as described above could easily reach that date. Then, Chavez and his revolution will finally kidnap all of the institutions and there will be no hope for any of us that want to live in freedom. It is that simple, tomorrow is “D” day, if the country and the world allow the Chavistas to get away with these regulations, it will be a shameful day for democracy everywhere.