Monday, April 15, 2013

Democratic elections? Brief overview of the irregularities occurred in Venezuela

As you may already know, due to Hugo Chávez's death, Venezuela held presidential elections on April 14, 2013. The National Electoral Council ("CNE" for its acronym in Spanish) announced that the difference between the government's candidate, Nicolás Maduro, and the leader of the opposition, Henrique Capriles, was an scarcely 1,58%. 

This image shows an illegal but common practice in Venezuela. Government supporters "assisting" people while they vote, presumably to make sure that they vote for the government's candidate

These results, as requested by the opposition, independent international observers and international organizations such as the Organization of American States and the European Union, must be confirmed by a final manual audit of the total votes. 

However, and without entering to consider such step, it is important to make a brief summary of all the irregularities that occurred during the election day. Such violations to the laws and regulations were mainly carried out by government supporters with the inaction and silence of the armed forces, which clearly calls into question the transparent and fair character of the process, and also the fairness of the CNE and the state of democracy in Venezuela. 

1. Serious allegations of the existence of clandestine voting centers, which counted with the protection of the armed forces, who were supposedly called upon to uphold the respect for the different laws and regulations. Namely, there were reports of clandestine voting centers in the offices of PDVSA Maracaibo, PDVSA La Campiña in Caracas, and PDVSA Gas in Cumaná. 

2. Sympathizers of the government, armed and in motorcycles, trying to sow fear in the population around the country. Again, the armed forces did nothing about it. News about specific events are already emerging, especially a shocking one which reveals that the coordinator of a voting center in the state of Zulia was murdered by government followers.

3. Several reports showing that in some cases, government supporters voted before dawn in various voting centers, even though the official starting time to start casting votes was 6:00 AM. Other concrete irregularity was the constant abuse of all the state media without even prompting a warning by the CNE. The main official TV channel, Venezolana de Televisión, blatantly violated the electoral laws without any consequence. Also, polling centers which remained inactive for more than 5 hours due to problems with the electoral machines, did not pass to the manual voting required by law and in some cases, the armed forces took the boxes with the votes before the mandatory audits were held. 

4. Airplanes of PDVSA, the famous oil state-owned company, and helicopters from the armed forces were used to transport government sympathizers across the country and even from Colombia, for the purposes of adding votes to Nicolás Maduro. 

5. Although the CNE had decided to use the same electoral register that in the last presidential election of October 7, 2012, as the day advanced, multiple allegations emerged sustaining that people who had not been able to vote on October 7, 2012 for not being registered, were voting, thus clearly suggesting the illegal manipulation of the electoral register. Moreover, pictures emerged of government supporters who voted even though when their identity card number is entered in the CNE web page, the corresponding information shows they are not registered in the electoral register. 

6. Other serious irregularities that emerged were the following: attempts to eliminate all the casted votes in a polling station since it was discovered that someone voted with a false identity card; in some voting centers it was found that the same footprint was associated with 5 identity cards; the immigration process was seriously slowed down in the capital's main airport in order to try to prevent more votes in favor of Henrique Capriles. 

7. To top it off, there is proof of government supporters doing political propaganda on election day (which is clearly prohibited) and very near to the voting centers. More specifically, a person related to a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly was found distributing identity cards outside a voting center in Caracas, clearly violating the laws and regulations applicable to the process. 

8. Today, April 15, 2013, reports emerged that members of the armed forces are destroying the voting receipts which are issued by the voting machine in order to boycott a possible audit of all the votes of the election and destroy proof of any irregularity, which would eliminate any credibility the CNE has left. 

9. The mandatory audit process of some electoral boxes carried out yesterday was also full of irregularities. Members of the armed forces were allegedly intimidating voters who oppose the government during such audits. In relation to that event, after the closing of the polls, motorized government sympathizers were seen firing into the air to intimidate the population. 

10. Finally, it must be highlighted that yesterday, as it was confirmed by the Vice-president, the government knocked down for a few minutes the Internet connection of almost all the country, which not only generated delays in the transmission of electoral results, but clearly affected the communications all over the country. Such action, clearly unconstitutional, was also seen as a form of frightening the people. 

Venezuela had elections, but they weren't free or fair. What the opposition is now requesting is a simply manual recount of every single vote, since Henrique Capriles has categorically denounced that he is the real winner. Democracy is in danger here, which can turn out a fatal blow to Latin America. It is time to call for peace and request the help of the international community not to overthrow Maduro, but to guarantee an independent recount of the vote. That's a simple request.

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