Whether or not there was fraud is one question. The political dynamics of the Fraud-claim are something else altogether.
Who gains from the fraud claim?
1-The Current CD Leadership: Claiming fraud shields the CD leadership from an uncomfortable debate about what they did wrong, how they managed to lose the election, and what they should do differently in the future. So long as they cling on to their “reasonable doubt”, CD leaders don’t have to walk the plank, and they know it. Probably, an all-out finger-pointing Battle Royale would break out if the CD accepted results as legitimate. Fractures would turn up immediately, the CD could collapse altogether. (This, in my opinion, would be a good thing, not a bad thing.)
2-Chavez: At the same time, the fraud claim serves Chavez well, by painting the CD as the same old tired extremist fringe of April 12th 2002 and Dec-Jan 2002-2003. An opposition wedded to fraud claims will tend to exclude itself from the political process, marginalize itself internationally and alienate the uncommited swing-voters Venezuelans call Ni-Nis. Such a movement cannot and will not carry out the painful process of introspection it would take to correct the mistakes it’s made in the last two years. Politically, then, the fraud claims are a God-send to the government.
[In my more conspiratorial moments, I tend to think the CNE understands that fraud-claims benefit Chavez, and has refused to take the steps it would take to convince the opposition that the election was clean (the hot-audit, a wide-ranging cold-audit of ballot papers, a machine audit) as a way of keeping the opposition’s “reasonable doubt” alive.]
Meanwhile, who loses?
1-Rank-and-file opposition members: Not only did we lose the election, now we’re also losing the opportunity to use that loss as a platform to renew our political movement. The referendum leaves us stuck not just with Chavez, but also with the opposition leadership that managed to lose the referendum against him.
2-Rank-and-file chavistas: Who, like anyone who lives in democracy, stand to benefit from having a serious, vigorous, forward looking opposition to the government rather than the dawning Chavista one-party system.
In other words, quite aside from whether there was or wasn’t fraud, official results will not change. Given that they will not change, we have to ask ourselves: what is the sense of continuing these claims? Who do they benefit? When will the opposition’s rank-and-file work up some anger at the CD and demand more serious leadership?