Archive for September 13th, 2003

The CNE decision: Progress or trap?

September 13, 2003

Intuitively the decision by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) yesterday makes me very nervous. While the decision was expected, I got the feeling that it went beyond where it should have, left many question marks in the air and used language to justify the reasons which to me are simply subjective and have no legal basis. This makes me nervous, because while I favored the path of gathering the signatures again to shield them from questioning, I can’t help but feel that there is a trap somewhere in our future and we are just walking innocently into it.

The Electoral Board cited three main reasons for rejecting the signatures:

-The gathering of the signatures was untimely. To reach this conclusion, the Board used two reasons. One, a decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court issued last year in July which said that the signatures had to be gathered. Two, that the person elected had to be given sufficient time to develop his/her program. On the first one, I do not understand why the February decision by the Constitutional Hall, which said the signatures can be gathered before the date set by the Constitution was not even mentioned. How can the CNE selectively use one decision and not the other? Even more, how can the earlier decision be more important than the other one? On the second reason of giving Chávez sufficient time: How come the CNE did not take into account that Chavez’ term is actually longer than the three years mid-point set by the Constitution. By reasons of the Constituent Assembly, his period was rest and he has been in power for four and a half years in a country which has a Constitution that sets the Presidential term is six years. Thus, the argument seems to be spurious and irrelevant.

-The question asked in the petition is a proclamation and not a request of the CNE to organize the referendum. First of all, given that there were no rules or regulations for calling for a referendum and given that the Venezuelan Constitution says that power resides in the people, why can’t it be a proclamation. And even if the form is wrong, what is more important the will of close to three million people that signed the petition or the formality defined after the fact? In fact, when the referendum to ask for a Constituent Assembly was held, the question was changed after the petition had been introduced to the CNE. Why the difference.

-The third reason was that Sumate, the volunteer organization which coordinated the gathering of the signatures is not “a political organization or registered in the CNE”. Now, this part I found absolutely out of the question. This is saying that anyone gathering signatures for any petition for whatever purpose has to be a political party and that a group of concerned citizens can not act independently to gather signatures for whatever cause. This one bothers me both from the fundamental point of view, the decision seems very undemocratic, but it also bugs me because the Chávez administration hates Sumate because of the efficiency with which it ahs managed to gather signatures for two referenda (both now denied), exceeding expectations and at a fraction of the cost of any Government promoted activity., The Chavez administration has been trying to disqualify Sumate both morally and legally, but ahs been unable to do so. With this, it is relegated to a secondary role, which it does not deserve and which may impact the result of gathering the signatures anew.

The decision was taken by a three of the five members of the CNE, with the other two abstaining (Not like Juan Forero of the New York Times who reported that it was by a 3-0 vote and only clarifying later in the paragraph that two abstained, making it sound in his usual sneaky way like it was a unanimous decision). The votes were clear, the two pro-Chavez members voted in favor, the two opposition members voted against and the President who is considered to be Chavista-light, voted in favor. (In related news, one of the four members of the Advisory Board for the CNE created by the Supreme Court resigned, supposedly for unrelated reasons, he was considered to be pro-Chavez but fairly independent)

On the positive side, the CNE will issue regulations by Wednesday on how to request a referendum which will make it very clear for the opposition how to do it in such a way that it will not be blocked once again. Another intriguing, if not positive, note was the fact that the President of the CNE made reference three times in his decision to the agreement signed last May by the Government on the opposition in which both sides agreed to back the idea of the referendum.

From a legal point of view, resubmitting the signatures according to the regulations to be issued by the CNE has the advantage that it would be much more difficult to question them from a legal point of view. Had the signatures been approved, pro-Chavez forces could have gone to the pro-Chavez Electoral Hall of the Supreme Court and challenged them, which would be much more difficult next time. At the same time, any attempt to block them when they are resubmitted, could be challenged in the Constitutional Hall as a denial of the basic right to vote.

The opposition will gather the signatures again on Oct. 5th. and hand them in soon after that. It seems quite difficult for the referendum to be held this year, but if there are really no traps or tricks on the way, it should take place in January. Somehow though, yesterday’s decision makes me very uneasy, making me think that this is all very well planned and staged and a surprise against it is waiting for us around the corner.