Venezuela Opens Election to Observers; Chavez Faces Opposition

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Byline: Ben Birnbaum, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Venezuela will invite international election observers to supervise its presidential vote next year, the head of the country's electoral commission told reporters Wednesday.

We want to invite people, institutions from all over the place, all over the globe, said Tibisay Lucena, president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE).

The October 2012 vote is widely seen as a referendum on leftist President Hugo Chavez's 14 years in power. It also is expected to be close, given Mr. Chavez's sagging popularity, Venezuela's recessionary economy and the previously fractious opposition's determination to unite around a single candidate.

But opposition activists and leaders, who have alleged voter fraud in past elections, have fretted that Mr. Chavez could rig the vote without a robust international election-monitoring effort.

The opposition is more united than it has been in the past several years. Still, sharp differences remain and it is not clear how enthusiastically they will come together to back a single candidate, said Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a Latin-American focused think tank. Chavez is vulnerable but is very resilient and has money to spend.

Mr. Chavez, who is being treated for cancer, said Monday that he will return to Cuba next week for a medical evaluation of his treatment.

Late last month, the opposition umbrella group - the Unified Democratic Panel - wrote CNE to request election observers from the Organization of American States, the U. …