An August 15 referendum on the presidency of Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias resulted in a double-digit margin of victory with a large majority of eligible voters going to the polls. The Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) reported that, with 94.4% of the vote counted, about 58% of voters had said "No" to the effort to recall Chavez and hold new presidential elections. This marks the eighth time in Chavez's six years as president that he has defeated his opponents at the ballot box. News reports now describe his opposition as weak, divided and in disarray.
International observers certify win for "No" to recall
With 4,991,483 voters calling for Chavez to remain in power and 3,576,517 calling for Chavez to step down, the CNE ratified Chavez's status as president on August 16. CNE president Francisco Carrasquero announced that Chavez had received support from 58.25% of voters and disapproval from 41.74%.
Former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Center acted as an independent observer in the vote, said, "After our own analysis, we are in a condition to say that our results coincide with the electoral council's."
The Organization of American States (OAS) was also on hand to monitor the election, as were dozens of other organizations (see NotiSur, 2004-07-30). OAS mission chief Valter Pecly Moreira praised Venezuelan voters, saying, "The civil character of the people is very important, (they were) very civil and cooperative; it impressed me." He said the installation of voting tables was generally conducted "in an appropriate manner." Observers called the large turnout a significant and positive development for Latin American democracies.
Massive voter turnout clogged polling stations, with observers noting a possibility that abstention rates could fall to as low as 20%. The final abstention rate seemed to be higher than that early estimate, at about 25%, but Carter still called it one of the largest turnouts he had ever seen.
Voters waited for hours in long, near-motionless lines on voting day. Bottlenecks formed as some stations did not open until 10:00 AM, when they had been scheduled to open at six in the morning.
The computerized voting system, which was a source of great controversy prior to the vote (see NotiSur, 2004-06-18), appeared to have functioned well, but the fingerprinting system to verify voters' identities slowed the process considerably. The first thumbprint machine that Chavez used when casting his own ballot failed to identify him properly and he had to use a different one.
Opposition charges "fraud," monitors see little proof
"They have perpetuated a gigantic fraud," alleged Henry Ramos, a spokesman for the Coordinadora Democratica (CD), the country's largest opposition organization. The CD and Venezuelan cardinal Rosalio Jose Castillo described Chavez's victory as a "fraud." "The votes in favor of Chavez were purchased by taking advantage of the hunger of the poor, with a result that contradicts all polls," said Castillo on Vatican Radio, claiming that official party members had controlled the voting and paid 50 to 60 dollars for each pro-Chavez vote.
International monitors ratified the vote as legitimate and called on opposition groups alleging fraud to provide proof of their accusations. OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said that observers would consider the vote as valid until there was "tangible proof" demonstrating otherwise. "The results of the CNE are compatible with our count," said Gaviria. "We are open to listen to precise points and look at concrete issues, but we are obligated to say to the country that the results which came out are compatible with our inspections."
Venezuelan election officials agreed on August 17 to conduct a partial audit of the results, but opposition leaders refused to participate in the audit, setting back international efforts to mend the polarized political climate. …