Did the votes actually cast on April 14th represent the will of the Venezuelan electorate, or didn’t they?
It’s a simple question, a basic question, and one that the Capriles campaign has been unable to answer coherently.
On the one hand, we’ve had a strong emphasis on incidencias – instances of threats, intimidation, bullying, abuse of state power and downright ballot stuffing that strongly suggest that the votes that ended up in the ballot box are not a faithful representation of the electorate’s will as of April 14th. Here, Capriles’s evidence is strong, documented and compelling. Venezuela’s electoral law (Articles 217-226) provides a clear mandate to re-run elections in centers where major irregularities are proven, which is logical: if you determine that, for whatever reason, the votes cast don’t reflect the will of the voters, you better vote again.
In parallel, we’ve had a strong emphasis on an audit of the actual votes cast on April 14th. Notice that that’s a demand that only makes sense if you believe that the votes as cast on the day do represent the sovereign will of the people. The call for an audit rests on a heavily implied – if never quite stated – view that they were not counted properly the first time around. Here, Capriles’s evidence is weak, fragmentary and unconvincing: nobody is going to convince me that if the Capriles camp had systematic evidence of numerical fraud, it wouldn’t have presented it forcefully by now (indeed, if you listen closely, they’ve been careful not to allege it.)
It’s true, to the extent that the audit includes the cuadernos de votación, it could yield evidence of ballot stuffing. Indeed, the Capriles camp already has some evidence of ballot stuffing – though not, it appears, on anything like the scale it would take to reverse the result.
Capriles’s messaging has stressed that an audit would reveal the truth about who won the election. But that’s in inevitable tension with the fact that the conditions on April 14th prevented voter’s true preferences from manifesting themselves. The position, then, comes out horribly muddled, something like: “marramucias x, y and z prevented people’s votes from revealing their real preference, therefore, we demand a recount of those same votes, you know, the ones we just convinced you don’t mean anything – and we promise to abide by that result.”
That just doesn’t make sense.
In the last few days, the basic incoherence in Capriles’s strategy has been coming home to roost.
Under pressure, the government did the logical thing: shift the entire debate onto the territory that’s weakest for Capriles, the recount. The Capriles camp never imagined they’d actually get a recount. Now their bluff has been called and they’re stuck fighting over technicalities and, what’s much worse, fighting on the wrong ground.
We’ve been badly outflanked here. The recount is an enormous distraction that we’ve stumbled into because we lacked the clarity to know which battle we wanted to fight.
It didn’t have to be this way: Article 217-219 of the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPE) gives plenty of grounds for annulling the results in a lot of actas and voting centers, given the evidence CSB has been collected. Articles 222-226 mandate new elections in places where the original vote is annulled, and provide a mechanism for refersing a previous proclamation if the new vote overturns the earlier result.
Of course, in a country where laws are toilet paper, for these things to be in the law doesn’t constitute a guarantee in and of itself. But from late night on the 14th of April, the rallying cry could’ve been “re-vote in places where there’s evidence of major irregularities!” and citizen protest’s could’ve been centered on defending that right.
For whatever reason, it wasn’t. The banner, instead, was “recount!”
Lured onto territory that’s far more favorable to the other side, the Capriles camp now has to watch as its initial advantage dissipates in a sea of technicalities leading to an audit that’s inherently unable to establish what they need to establish.
It’s a miserable position to be in. And it’s not one you can blame on Tibisay Lucena.
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