Todayís big news was the accusation by leaders of Movimiento al Socialism (MAS) that the Consejo Nacional electoral had disqualified 20% of the signatures gathered by the opposition to ask for Hugo Chavezí recall. While El Nacional (by subscription) decided to make a big deal about it, it was simply old news and incorrect, but it provided clear proof that there was something very sneaky going on at the CNE at the verification levels, which merited last weekís conflict between international observers and Government authorities.
The truth was that not a single signature has been disqualified yet from the petition. In the first stage of the verification process, those forms (there are ten signatures per form) that have irregularities are set aside to be inspected by the quality control group as well as the technical committee. These two instances will decide whether the forms will be included in the verification of the signatures or not. The big scandal the week that the OAS and Carter met with CNE authorities was precisely over the fact that all of a sudden the number of questionable forms jumped from single digit levels to as high as 60%.
The table below clearly demonstrates that there was bad faith in the process. The verification of the forms was done alphabetically state by state. This table taken from page 2 of Tal Cual shows how after checking thirteen states the percentage of forms set aside for irregularities never exceeded 10%. Given that the opposition handed in close to 30% more signatures than it needed to activate the recall vote, this meant that the process was moving smoothly towards a recall. But then all of a sudden and in a manner which can not be justified by statistics, the same criteria began yielding rejection levels as high as 65%!. This was what raised all the issues that lead to allowing international observers to participate in all stages of the verification process. Just the week before the CNE had decided that they would not participate precisely in the stages where the validity of these forms would have been decided. Thus, as the Tal Cual headline clearly said it today, no signatures have been disqualified. That is certainly the good news. The bad news is that there is clearly a pattern of cheating and bad faith present which is aimed at blocking the possibility of a Presidential recall. Fortunately for the opposition, the people carrying this out are so stupid, that their blatant attempt at hijacking the will of the people has been clearly exposed. Unfortunately, not one of those CNE workers has been fired yet, while the CNE union continues to charge that more people are being fired in order to hire more pro-Chavez workers. Moreover, since the President of the CNE continues to defend the fact that he knows what is going on at all levels within his organization, he is either being taken for a ride or not as honorable as he claims to be.
Note added on Saturday January 31st.: The Table above does not include Zulia State which was completed yesterday. In that State 61.15% of the forms were put under observation bringing the total to 93,975 or roughly 939,750 signatures. The regulations say that only signatures can be invalidated, but this is definitely a source of concern.