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In the path to December 3rd presidential poll

February 10th
* National Electoral Council (CNE) director Sobella Mejías occurred to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) Constitutional Court to submit a report on her management as the CNE Vice-President and chair of the Political Participation and Funding Committee.

* Mejías downplayed any connection of the move with upcoming appointment of the new CNE board.  "I have done this before. Public servants should give an annual, detailed account of their performance," she clarified.

* She added that the report was submitted to TSJ for being the appointing authority.

* Mejías evaded a query about the possibility of being ratified by the National Assembly (AN) as CNE director, but thinks that she could continue her incumbency.

February 9th
* Sobella Mejías, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) committee for political participation and funding is requesting an administrative investigation into President Hugo Chávez, seven ministries, three governor's offices, three public institutions, the Caracas metropolitan mayor's office, and state-owned oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) for reportedly anticipating electoral campaign and for allegedly using state funds for political proselytism.

* She is filing her request with the other members of the CNE board of directors.

* For "most" CNE authorities, "there is founded evidence that an electoral campaign is taking place ahead of time, and that state funds are being used for such purposes, and that public officials have been participating in such events."

* All of this runs counter the Venezuelan Constitution, the organic law on vote and political participation, and the corruption law. These offenses are penalized with fines ranging from USD 3,133 to USD 15,665 or prison terms from six months to four years.

* In her report, Mejías stressed that "regional and local governments have deployed an excessive advertising campaign for electoral purposes. In some cases, advertising spots include national symbols and pictures of the heroes of independence. This shows a gross political advantage for the government, as it is actively conducting proselytizing events for (December 3rd) 2006 presidential election," Mejías asserted.

* The CNE director is requesting this administrative investigation based on a speech Chávez delivered last February 2nd, when he marked his seventh anniversary in office. Mejías is also basing her claims on advertisements published in Venezuelan newspapers where both Pdvsa and the Caracas metropolitan mayor's office convened people to take part in a demonstration that took place last February 4th to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Chávez' failed coup d'etat against President Carlos Andrés Pérez.

* In other advertisements, Carabobo state governor's office, the Ministry of Nourishment and the Micro-Financing Development Fund (Fondemi) praised Chávez' achievements, while the Labor Ministry promotes Chávez' "21st century socialism," among others.

* Mejías' request will also target the governor's offices of the states of Miranda and Cojedes, the Communication and Information Ministry, the Popular Economy Ministry, the Light Industries Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Energy and Petroleum Ministry, and the National Institute of Youth and the National Superintendence of Cooperatives.

* Both in advertisements and Chávez' address Mejías believes that "a public call was made to consolidate a revolutionary project and process."

* Further, Mejías rejected the "official launching" of Chávez' electoral program "Batalla de Santa Inés," even though the presidential campaign has not started. She claims that such a Chávez' move was made with state funds, "and taking advantage of the position he holds."

* The shield on the voting technology prevents hackers from handling data transfer or deviating or changing data, National Electoral Council (CNE) Information Technology Manager Leonardo Hernández maintained.

* "During the local, municipal and parliament elections held in 2005, we proved that security levels can be broken in no event. This cannot be made even with some days in advance to the elections," he argued.

* Hernández supported Smartmatic automatic system, allowing for transfer of technology to CNE.

* He insisted on saying that control procedures aim at preventing tracking of votes. "The idea is to avoid finding about who voted who and secure vote secrecy."

* The official explained that software is duly signed and encrypted in the machines.

* "Votes are encrypted to prevent anybody from altering or knowing them. Once stored and following logout, they are also carried in a secured way."

February 7th
* The National Assembly named, unanimously and without a previous debate, a preliminary taskforce that is to designate the committee that will appoint the candidates to the board of directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE.)

* The all-pro-government 11-member taskforce is headed by the legislature second vice-president Roberto Hernández and also comprises parliamentarians Erick Rodríguez, Tareck El Aissami, Israel Sotillo, Rafael Isea, Amalia Sáez, Carlos Escarrá, Aleydys "Chiche" Manaure, Nohelí Pocaterra, Luis Gamargo and Mario Isea.

* A few minutes into the ordinary session, deputy Ismael García suggested discussing the designation of the taskforce at the end of the session, "so that we can reach consensus on this subject."

* His proposal was accepted, and the designation was left last in the session agenda. Following discussion of the first item in agenda, García took the floor again and requested to discuss the designation of the taskforce as originally planned -as the second issue of the legislature agenda. He then disclosed the names of the parliamentarians that the plenary session subsequently designated.

* Following designation, National Assembly chair Nicolás Maduro swore in the taskforce, and suggested them to meet with García, who was the president of a previous committee in charge of designating candidates to the board of directors of CNE to "get valuable information."

* According to Maduro, the committee in charge of appointing the candidates to CNE would be named within the next 10 days. This group is to comprise 10 people from Venezuelan civil society.

* The Congress chair estimated that "by mid-April a new National Electoral Council may be designated under the Constitution."

* There are two diverging thesis on who the National Assembly is to designate as the new top Venezuelan electoral authorities. Sources claim that Chávez' MVR supports ratification in office of current CNE president Jorge Rodríguez and director Tibisay Lucena. On the other hand, pro-Chávez parliamentarians would rather appoint a brand new board of directors for CNE.

* Jesuit priest José Virtuoso -a candidate who was allegedly proposed by the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference- enjoys wide support to become a member of the new CNE board, which would comprise three pro-Chávez members, one opposition representative and one non-aligned director.

* Opposition parties claimed that President Hugo Chávez, governors, mayors and other officials broke the Venezuelan crime code and the corruption law as they allegedly used public funds last February 4th both to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Chávez' failed 1992 coup d'etat and to launch his untimely re-election campaign.

* Further, Chávez' foes harshly criticized Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez' attendance to the event and claimed they are to file actions with his office to prevent new similar violations.

* Gerardo Blyde, secretary general of opposition Primero Justicia party, said officials who lent vehicles owned by public institutions and used public funds to pay travel allowances to demonstrators from all around the country violated the Venezuelan anti-corruption law, articles 52, 53, 54, 55 and 68. Such violations are penalized with prison terms ranging from three to 10 years, plus fines amounting to 60 percent of the funds wrongly used. They also misused state broadcasting media to transmit the event and violated the crime code, article 194.

* Blyde said his party is preparing to file a complaint, but did not rule out seeking impeachment of the relevant senior officials. Such impeachment may be sought at the Attorney General's Office or the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, and therefore Primero Justicia could request some officials to refrain from hearing the case.

* Jesús Méndez Quijada, president of opposition AD party, strongly rejected the stance of Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez, who attended the commemoration of the 14th anniversary of Chávez' failed coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez.

* Méndez Quijada claimed that they do not need to file with Rodríguez any evidence of the violations incurred by Chávez, as Rodríguez was present at the event.
* "You saw this man (Chávez) violating any possible regulations!" Méndez Quijada stated. He urged Rodríguez to be courageous and tell Venezuelans whether he is to continue to turn a deaf ear to this situation.

* "Mr. Rodríguez, you were there, all sit down. You heard the head of State -who was using public funds- instructing people on how to wage an electoral battle."

* Ruling party deputy Nicolás Maduro, chair of the National Assembly, dismissed the possibility to pass a law governing the way the incumbent Venezuelan President should campaign for re-election, claiming that such rules are already in place.

* Maduro was replying to opposition Copei party's intended move to file an action with the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) urging the top court to order the legislature to draft the relevant electoral rules.

* "There is no default or vacuum regarding this subject matter. There are very clear regulations concerning electoral campaigning, the campaign starting point, and what candidates should do," Maduro explained.

* He ensured that "President Hugo Chávez is fulfilling the regulations, just like all of the public institutions."

* Maduro asked Chávez' opponents to abide by electoral rules too, and claimed that the Venezuelan opposition is "preparing plans to destabilize the country."

* "We are asking the opposition to draft their own rules in order to choose their presidential candidate. Stop avoiding this issue! Come on, say whether you are going to have a presidential candidate or you are going to keep sabotage, in line with the US politics that is driving them crazy."

* Freddy Lepage, leader of opposition alliance Polo Democrático, warned Hugo Chávez' foes that the designation of an autonomous National Electoral Council (CNE) comprised of authorities guaranteeing the voters' will during next December 3rd presidential election would be impossible if they do not unite, stage joint street demonstrations and put pressure on the relevant institutions.

* He underscored this is the only way to make Chávez' government understand that both Chávez and the opposition are to face serious problems if "electoral regulations are not fulfilled, if clear rules are not set, if President Hugo Chávez continues to benefit from so many advantages and to use public funds indiscriminately, rudely and vulgarly to promote his candidacy."

* He dismissed the possibility that Chávez may gain 10 million ballots in the election -the goal the Venezuelan ruler has set. According to Lepage, to achieve such a goal Chávez would have to gain 1 million followers a month from now to December.

* He stressed that "the only way for Chávez to obtain 10 million ballots is by using the current corrupt and deceitful National Electoral Council (CNE)."

* National and local directors of opposition Acción Democrática party (AD) met to ponder on their participation in the elections for president next December 2006.

* The party representatives are trying to define if there is good timing for the contest. AD Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup noted that there are still no assurances for a transparent process and conditions are worse than ever.

* He underscored that under such circumstances, participation in elections will not be possible. Even if political parties would urge their followers to vote, they would not do it. "If we were to participate, people would not follow us, because they realized that abstention is the only way to defeat (President Hugo) Chávez."

* The leader encouraged the government to "accept democratic rules."

* For his part, AD former president Humberto Celli deems it important to run for president, and regretted distrust caused by the National Electoral Council (CNE.)

* Any investigation into the use of public monies for the presidential campaign is  responsibility of the National Electoral Council (CNE,) Comptroller General Clodosvaldo Russián said.

* The official viewed as a normal part of political debate the charges on embezzlement in connection with a rally organized last February 4th by President Hugo Chávez followers.

* "CNE has jurisdiction over campaign matters, because there precisely are the expenses that each organization should incur," he told Unión Radio.

* Before a meeting with the National Assembly (AN) Finance Committee, the Comptroller encouraged leaders to provide evidence of any wrongdoing.

* The Attorney General Office is to investigate alleged embezzlement by the government in connection with the use of public monies to fund a march last February 4th to mark the 14th anniversary of the 1992 military upheaval.

* Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez made the announcement in the radio show "Fiscalía Contigo." Earlier, he stated, the Attorney General Office had made inquiries into similar claims.

* "Once, we started an investigation when Governor (Enrique) Mendoza made a similar act in central Miranda state; another one in connection with Baruta and Chacao mayors, and also some demonstrations with the participation of the national government."

* The official promised in a press release to make his best effort to update old cases.

February 6th
* Antonio Ledezma, president of opposition Alianza Bravo Pueblo party, said he would request the Attorney General's Office to determine whether embezzlement was committed in connection with a march President Hugo Chávez' government held last February 4th to commemorate the 14th anniversary of his failed coup d'etat against President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Sources estimated costs at USD 12 million.

* "During the march you could hear the same slogans Hugo Chávez has been chanting since 1998. But they cannot hide Venezuelan reality of increased misery, poverty, unemployment and insecurity," Ledezma ensured.

* According to Ledezma, Chávez government spent USD 7.4 million in travel allowances; USD 3 million in transportation; USD 559,200 in t-shirts bearing pro-Chávez slogans; and USD 466,000 in hats for demonstrators.

* He underscored that the government used 3,702 buses from all around the country to transport the demonstrators who participated in a march from Petare, northeast Caracas, to Bolívar Avenue, downtown Caracas.

* Oscar Pérez, leader of opposition group Comando de la Resistencia, filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office claiming that President Hugo Chávez and a number of his government officials used public funds to finance political events and electoral campaigns.

* According to Pérez, government officials have incurred in crimes such as embezzlement, among others, as they used public funds and logistics to hold a demonstration last February 4th to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Chávez' failed coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez.

* This opposition group estimated that demonstrators were taken from all around the country to Caracas in more than 4,000 buses, and they put expenses at some USD 12 million.

* Opposition Copei party is to make a petition at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice for the National Assembly (AN) to regulate President Hugo Chávez electoral campaign.

* Copei Secretary-General César Pérez Vivas labeled as abuse the president's "unleashed political activism."

* He underscored that last weekend there was evidence of the "whole state machinery used for political activism. Even a governor declared the amount of buses brought from his local government, the number of buses retained by his local government. It is a commingling of state and party assets, of state goals and the goals of a political sector. They are using all the society's resources to remain in office in an illegitimate, immoral manner."

* Copei reckons that the legislature has failed to fulfill its responsibilities under the Constitution, as it has not enacted a law to regulate the president's actions as candidate.

* Leopoldo Puchi, secretary general of opposition MAS party, voiced concern about the lack of regulation regarding the campaign of a candidate running for presidential re-election, in a clear reference to the use of public funds for President Hugo Chávez' electoral campaign.

* Next December for the first time Venezuelans are to participate in an election where one of the candidates is an incumbent president running for re-election.

* "The most serious thing about this situation is not only the use of (public) economic resources for campaigning, but also the use of the whole state apparatus" for such purposes, said Puchi, who underscored the participation of the military, ministries and public agencies in such efforts.

* He reminded that the electoral contest should involve candidates and political parties, rather than Venezuela and the United States.

* He added that the participation of the Venezuelan State in political campaigns "obstructs free, democratic and rational competition between (Chávez' party) Movimiento Quinta República and opposition parties."

* He suggested that this issue is much more serious than the use of automated balloting machines or the election of a new National Electoral Council (CNE).

* Carlos Berrizbeitia, a former parliamentarian for opposition Proyecto Venezuela party, on behalf of his organization questioned the move by both Hugo Chávez government and some opposition parties to launch an "electoral carnival" almost eight months ahead of December 3rd presidential polls.

* He claimed that the real problem Venezuela is facing is not Chávez' plans to obtain re-election with 10 million ballots, but the fact that there are more than 10 million people facing unemployment, and insecurity, among other problems.

* He questioned the use of public funds to solve problems in other countries, while so many Venezuelans face extreme poverty.

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