PRELIMINARY OAS OBSERVATIONS ON THE LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IN VENEZUELA
December 6, 2005
The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) witnessed, over the course of one month, the process to elect representatives to Venezuela’s National Assembly, which culminated in the voting on Sunday, December 4. On election day, the Mission deployed its 45 observers in 22 states of the country to observe the elections through a random sampling of polling centers.
As a result of Sunday’s observation, the Mission would like to underscore the climate of calm that was evident during the elections, as well as the adequate level of preparation and organization at the polling centers. It was verified that, as the National Electoral Council (CNE) had stated, the digital fingerprint machines and the electronic voting notebooks were not in use and the machines were disconnected during the voting. The certification of results was printed out before transmitting, and audits were done after the polls closed. The day ended with a participation level of approximately 25% of all potential voters.
Nevertheless, based on its direct observation on election day, the Mission would like to point out that in several polling centers it was noted that a significant number of voters showed they did not understand or had difficulties with the voting process. A good number of voters asked the poll workers or political party observers present to accompany them and help them cast their votes with the electronic ballot. Such practices could damage the secrecy of the vote.
In the majority of polling centers observed by the OAS, the polls closed between 5 and 7 p.m., even in several cases when no voters were in line, which was not in compliance with the schedule established by law. The decision was taken by the CNE leadership for weather-related reasons in five states, and in the rest of the country on the grounds that the polling centers should remain open for 10 hours. In practice, poll workers and members of Plan República were the ones who decided the time the polls would close. These circumstances helped to create uncertainty and suspicion. It is worth noting that the extension of the voting hours coincided with an intensification of the governing party’s campaign to increase participation in the final hours.
The Mission laments the public statements made by a high-level leader of the governing party that sought to coerce the participation of government employees. This statement was denounced by all sectors of the country.
In terms of the electoral process, throughout its work the Mission confirmed that mutual distrust constituted a central element of the electoral contest. This distrust was particularly evident between an important sector of the citizenry and governmental, electoral and party authorities; between the government and the opposition; between the government and the privately owned news media; and within the opposition parties themselves. A climate of polarization and political tension was also perceived.
In particular, the Mission has observed that there remains a distrust of the CNE on the part of a significant segment of the opposition. This was expressed in terms of criticisms about its origin and composition, the perception that the opposition has of partiality and lack of transparency in the CNE’s actions, as well as in relation to the controversial application of some aspects of election laws. Additionally, certain inconsistencies and gaps in the electoral law were observed, which reduced legal assurances and which suggest the need for a rigorous reflection on these laws.
Despite the important guarantees granted by the CNE, at the request of this significant segment of the opposition, this segment decided in the end not to participate in the elections. It is worth noting that the guarantees that were offered included the elimination of the digital fingerprint machines and of the great majority of the electronic voting notebooks, an increase in audits after the polls closed, the granting of additional space in the news media for electoral advertising, and the presence of witnesses and international observers in all phases of the electoral process.
Similarly, the efforts undertaken by the CNE in fulfillment of its mandate to automate the vote are worth mentioning. Nonetheless, given its complexity, the system requires permanent audits as well as technical and human safeguards, with the effective participation of all political parties, in order to generate the necessary confidence.
Electoral participation is what contributes to the strengthening of democracy and the legitimacy of representative institutions. It is up to the electoral authorities to generate the necessary conditions for the full participation of all sectors. Although the right not to participate is recognized, it is of concern that due to the withdrawal of the opposition, an important portion of the citizenry is left without representation in the National Assembly. Every democracy requires an institutional opposition committed to the electoral process, so that it can loyally participate in the democratic system.
During the election campaign, the Mission observed proselytizing activities on the part of high-level public officials, at the national as well as the state and municipal levesl, and an absence of strict mechanisms to control the use of public and private resources for political and electoral ends.
There was observed, among political actors, an aggressive and discourteous public discourse about the electoral system, which hampered the creation of a favorable climate in which to debate political proposals and to carry out constructive electoral campaigns.
In the view of the Mission, democratic political coexistence will be possible only through a restoration of confidence. This requires building respect and mutual recognition through a frank, inclusive and good-faith dialogue.
This Mission considers that it would be highly beneficial for Venezuelan democracy if, through such a dialogue, government authorities, political parties and citizens could, in the near future, reach a new democratic consensus. The agenda for this dialogue could include such items as: the election of the CNE, the automated voting system, the electoral law, the Permanent Electoral Registry and the process of issuing identification cards, the development of a political party system with transparent financing formulas, the parliamentary election system to ensure proportional representation of minorities, and the strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers—a basic principle of all presidential democracies. The Mission believes that the primary political responsibility to promote such a dialogue rests with the governmental authorities.
The Mission thanks the governmental, electoral and political party authorities, as well as civil society, for the warm welcome it received during its stay in Venezuela.
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