Busy week, little time for blogging, but here is a rehash about what I think about the new regulations, taken from another source I write for, which some of you may read, sorry for the duplication!!
After much discussion and a unanimous vote, the Venezuelan Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) finally approved the regulations that will be used for the recall referendum against President Chávez. The result is a victory for both sides. For the opposition, because it managed to significantly change the regulations originally proposed by the legal department of the CNE two weeks ago. For the Government, because it managed to introduce into the regulations a number of stumbling blocks which will make it significantly more difficult for the opposition to carry out the referendum. Overall however, the regulations, if not challenged by Chávez and his supporter, implies that there are clear rules and there should be a recall referendum for the President of
Venezuela before mid March 2004.
The biggest victories for the opposition were those regarding the timetable and who collects the signatures. In the now infamous original draft, the CNE abrogated itself the responsibility for organizing and regulating the gathering of the petition. In some sense, it would have turned the petition drive into an election itself. In the version approved, the CNE will design and distribute the forms, a process that it will have to implement in 26 days, and then the opposition will have four days to collect the signatures at either 2700 centers established for that purpose, or gather them door to door using the forms given out by the CNE. The timetable was also considerably shortened by adjusting it to the current laws, as well as eliminating a number of steps that had apparently been created only to delay the referendum further. At the most, it would take 145 days for the recall referendum to take place, if the CNE made use of a 30 day grace period for the approval of the request for the recall referendum.
The regulations require that the CNE transcribe and check all the signatures required to reach the magic 20% of the electorate in order to request the recall referendum for the President. This will be done within the time period allotted to the full process of approving the referendum, so it will be the responsibility for the CNE to complete the process in time.
Where the opposition did lose some ground was in the fact that the process would be automated and fingerprints will be required in the petition. The biggest concern for the opposition may be the first requirement. By requiring that the process be automated, even if supposedly it can be made manually, it may be impossible to implement within the allotted time and a huge uncertainty is thus introduced in the process. Currently Venezuela has 7700 voting machines from Spanish company Indra. Both sides, but particularly the opposition, are weary of Indra and its style in previous electoral processes. Thus, a different company would have to run the process. However, it would appear unlikely that another company would want to take over Indra’s machines and implement the referendum using them in such a short period of time. Moreover, the need for automation has to be questioned when we are talking about a simple Yes/No referendum. In fact, even the Indra representative in Caracas said he saw no need for using an automated process.
The week had been full of rumors suggesting that the final regulations would be approved with a split vote. The Government was applying pressure on all fronts to have the CNE include both the fingerprints and the automation in the process. The final point for which MVR was applying pressure, was asking that the gathering of the signatures tale place in a single day, an issue in which they lost, as the CNE will allow four days for the collection of signatures.
Another decision, which may have a possible negative impact, is that the CNE will publish the names of those that signed the petition so that everyone may challenge the presence of their signatures in the petition. This will certainly intimidate members of the armed forces into not signing the petition, but is unclear whether it will or not have an impact on Government workers, who may fear losing their jobs if they do sign. The first is only a small number, but the second may be quite important in a country with such a large number of public workers.
Overall, except for the automation theme, the regulations provide a clear framework for the opposition to request the Presidential recall referendum. As with many other issues, the politicians have lost sight of the true purpose of the petition drive and the fact that the true election is the referendum itself. Much like the world of Venezuelan politics, the process is simply too complex, has too many details that are overregulated and in our opinion, is in violation of at least the spirit of the people’s participation, as defined in the country’s Constitution. It is also very far away from the participative democracy that Hugo Chávez proclaimed to be his goal less than three years ago