Lets be clear. The basic reason the Opposition will lose the Dec. 4th parliamentary elections is that more people want to vote for the government than for the Opposition. Denying this would be an idle exercise in buck passing – though one so comfortable for Oppo leaders, we can be sure we will hear it. For too long, the Opposition has used CNE’s partiality as an excuse to avoid the work of building up its political support. Until it does that, it won’t win an election even if a gaggle of angels is put in charge of CNE.
With that proviso firmly in mind, it’s also important to understand that CNE is not run by a gaggle of angels. The list of grievances with the Elections Authority has grown longer, not shorter, since last year’s referendum. At the moment, the key items are:
Dodgy Voter Roll: The Permanent Electoral Registry grew from 12.310.031 voters to 14.245.614 voters – 16% – in just seven months, from December 2003 to June 2004. Basic safeguards to ensure that all those registered are eligible to vote were not applied. Opposition parties cannot audit the voter roll, because the CNE refuses to publish it.
Unexplained “Migrations”: As many as 30% of voters have been “migrated” (switched) from one voting center to another, with no explanation.
Opaque tallying: CNE has consistently ignored its legal obligation to tally votes publicly.
Voter Intimidation: The use of electronic voter lists together with electronic voting machines allows CNE to infer which voter voted for which party, undermining the secrecy of the vote. Given the history of using information about voter preferences to discriminate against opposition supporters, this system results in voter intimidation.
Possibility of electronic tallying fraud: Electronic voting machines will connect with CNE headquarters before each machine produces a print-out of its voting results, opening the possibility of “bi-directional electronic traffic” – meaning that machines may end up producing a tally report beamed back to them from CNE headquarters. In last years referendum, there is evidence that there was back-and-forth electronic communications between voting machines and CNE headquarters throughout the day.
Absence of a credible audit: The all-important “hot audit” – the manual recount of paper ballots in a representative sample of voting centers – will be published five weeks after the election, giving plenty of time for manipulation.
Morochas: Through administrative fiat, CNE will allow the use of the “morochas” – a mechanism that deliberately and unfairly manipulates of the mixed uninominal/list venezuelan voting system. The trick is designed to magnify the number of parliamentary seats allocated to the largest party, in violation of the constitutional principle of Proportional Representation.
Abusive use of state resources: Though not directly under CNE control, the government continues to use state resources to give unfair advantage to pro-Chavez candidates.
It’s true that even without these various manipulations, the government would still win the election. That does not make them acceptable. Hopefully, the EU elections observation mission will take note.
Just last week, the OSCE produced a harsh report on the Azerbaijani elections for irregularities roughly comparable to those outlined above, despite the fact that the Azerbaijani government would likely have won those elections even without fraud. We urge the EU EOM to apply European standards consistently.