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Parliament appoints new electoral authority

* On April 24th, the National Assembly (AN) formally invited political parties, the Catholic Church, business associations, trade unions, electoral observers, civil and community groups to take part on of April 25-26 in a debate about the designation of the new directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE.)

* Earlier, on April 23rd, Congress chair, ruling party MVR deputy Nicolás Maduro, said the National Assembly plenary session on April 27th would select the five CNE incumbent directors and their 10 substitutes, out of 126 candidates.

* On April 24th, presidential candidate Teodoro Petkoff said he would rather have methods different from primary elections to elect the opposition challenger of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez next December 3rd.

* The ex Coordination and Planning minister under Rafael Caldera second administration claimed that "common sense and clearance" of candidates can be used as a formula different from the primary elections proposed by NGO Súmate.

* Also, Petkoff said he intends to win Chávez by using words, as he has no funding or a political party supporting his candidacy, DPA reported.

* On April 25th, Manuel Rosales, governor of northwestern Zulia state, claimed he could be a tough rival for President Hugo Chávez in next December 3rd election and represent all Venezuelans regardless their political trends, as he has "enough fire power to compete in fair elections and oust Chávez from Miraflores."

* "People are looking for unity, and I think I could be the candidate of all Venezuelans, not of a single sector. Venezuela is tired of living the drama of being a rich country, with a government awash in dollars, and facing increasing hunger, poverty, unemployment and worsening living standards."

* On April 25th, the committee the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference (CEV) appointed to monitor the process ahead of December 3rd presidential election met with the directors of the National Assembly to address the selection of the new directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE.)

* Following the meeting, Monsignor Freddy Fuenmayor branded the event as "positive," and underscored they reiterated the recommendations Catholic bishops made last year, namely, the need to elect a new CNE that is trustworthy for all Venezuelans. This way, turnout in the election will be massive.

* On April 25th, opposition presidential pre-candidates Teodoro Petkoff and Julio Borges, together with northwestern Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales, vowed to respond to the "national aspiration" of selecting one single opposition presidential hopeful to face Hugo Chávez in next December 3rd election.

* Even though Rosales has not officially launched his presidential candidacy, he is likely to do it soon.

* In a news conference held in Maracaibo, Zulia state, the hopefuls did not rule "any mechanism" to select an opposition candidacy by consensus. They may resort to primary elections, consensus or elect the candidate with the largest popular support.

* On April 25th, NGO Súmate said the Venezuelan register of voters (RE) has not been audited properly, and the census will be reliable only when the National Electoral Council (CNE) delivers the addresses of voters enrolled.

* Súmate representatives called a press conference to brief on the inconsistencies found in their analysis of the audit report on RE submitted by the Electoral Advisory and Promotion Center (Capel).

* Súmate has proposed a comprehensive audit of the register of voters and volunteered to do it, as long as the CNE board provides the organization technicians with the addresses of the voters enrolled.

* As stated by Ricardo Estévez, Capel conducted the statistical check of voters in only 0.1 percent of the census.

* On April 25th, official news agency Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN) reported that Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez plans to request the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) the authorization needed for preliminary proceedings to sue Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales, a likely rival of Chávez in December 3rd presidential election.

* Rodríguez explained that he is exploring the move along with his legal counsels. In his view, "there is evidence enough" to file a complaint.

* On April 25th, a woman joined the list of opposition candidates running against Hugo Chávez in next December 3rd presidential election. Cecilia Sosa, the former president of the extinct Supreme Court of Justice, said she is to participate in the competition, and her candidacy would be officially announced in the next two or three weeks.

* Sosa stressed her proposals are to be "in contrast to everything President Chávez represents, his attitude and his agenda."

* Further, she said her plans would focus on security, among other issues.

* Sosa also showed willingness to participate in primary elections or any other mechanism to select a single opposition candidate to face Chávez.

* On April 26th, Venezuelan Vice-President José Vicente Rangel said Manuel Rosales, the governor of western Zulia state, has no real chance of defeating President Hugo Chávez in a potential electoral confrontation.

* The senior official stated that the local ruler is not strong enough to challenge President Chávez.

* "I think Chávez needs a good candidate to confront him," Rangel commented in reference to a meeting held by opposition candidates Teodoro Petkoff, Julio Borges and Governor Rosales.
* On April 27th, the National Assembly declared in permanent session to designate the new directorate of the National Electoral Council (CNE.)
The debate started at noon with no assurances on the time they would take to make the selection.

* The Congress president, ruling party MVR deputy Nicolás Maduro, ensured that the process is "hard and complex."

* Unofficial sources warned three scenarios are possible: a brief debate where the 15 directors of CNE are designated; a long debate ending early on Friday with the appointment of the new CNE, and a marathon session where only a few directors will be selected and others will be pending.

* On April 27th, the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission published its final report on the parliament polls held last December 2005 in Venezuela, and posed the need to include political opposition sectors in building of new electoral conditions.

* "Government and electoral authorities should create the conditions needed for full participation of all the sectors in building of rules and regulations, and the opposition should inevitably accept and undertake them," OAS asserted.

* The observation mission found "lack of, or a poor democratic dialogue" and considered that it is very helpful for the national government to advance or foster dialogue with all political forces, particularly on controversial and pending matters.

* The mission underscored that in the absence of the opposition involvement in democratic institutions, effectiveness of values and democratic practices that usually serve to regulate the abuse of power is almost impossible.

* OAS also said automated elections in Venezuela should be limited until the National Electoral Council (CNE) is in the capacity to reassure the diverse political players that it harnesses such technology.

* However, OAS experts advised against the use of manual ballots as an alternative to automated voting machines.

* OAS recommended the directors of the CNE to increase and enhance audits. They urged the Executive Branch to encourage dialogue with the opposition.

* The CNE "has adopted the newest and most up-to-date electoral platform in the hemisphere, with a view to ensure technological transfer and independence, security, transparency, and integrity of the polls. But hasty implementation of such technology, as well as its complexity and the fact that most voters are not familiar with such technology, has prevented its full assimilation."

* However, OAS did not advocate manual vote. "Making a manual count of paper ballots would run counter the nature and rationality of the automated balloting system as provided for under the Organic Law on Vote and Political Participation. Further, manual count of paper ballots would require changes to the law," said OAS experts.

* Early on April 28th, following 13 hours of uninterrupted discussions, the National Assembly selected the new five incumbent directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and their substitutes, thus replacing the current temporary authorities.

* After long negotiations, women prevailed among the five incumbent directors, and the CNE directorate was renewed only partially.

* Tibisay Lucena, a current incumbent director of the CNE was re-elected as incumbent director. And other CNE officials were designated as CNE directors.

* The new incumbent directors of the CNE are Tibisay Lucena, Sandra Oblitas and Vicente Díaz -they were postulated by civil organizations-, and Janeth Hernández and Germán Yépez, both nominated by the Citizens' Power.

* The National Assembly plenary session made the decision at around 1:50 a.m. on April 28th, following a session that started at 12:30 p.m. on April 27th.

* The new alternate directors of the CNE are Freddy Díaz, Luis Nuñez, Luis Salamanca, José Yánez, Grisell López, Levy Alter, Maricleing Stelling, William Pacheco, Humberto Castillo, and Pedro Díaz Blum.

* Even though the legislature has no capacity to designate the new president of the CNE -as this is a function of the directorate-, sources claimed that the National Assembly already "set the guidelines" to have Lucena occupy this position.

* Nine groups of parliamentarians assessed a list of 15 candidates to the CNE directorate. At 11:30 p.m. on April 27th, Nicolás Maduro resumed the debate on the selection of the new directors.

* Finally, the plenary session voted each of the 15 people nominated to occupy the new board of directors of the CNE.

* Vicente Díaz, the new principal director of the National Electoral Council (CNE), is ready to foster matching of machine-based votes with the physical voucher. In this way, people will be assured that their vote was recorded accordingly, Díaz explained.

*  The new director is not afraid of his new duties and responsibilities and is eager to make CNE represent all Venezuelans, including "those willing to vote the Government, those who do not want to vote the Government, and even those who are reluctant to vote, because abstention is a right."

* Nothing has changed in the domestic electoral scene following the appointment of the new board of the National Electoral Council (CNE) and there will be a sweeping abstention in upcoming elections for president if confidence in the voting system cannot be recovered, Henry Ramos Allup, the Secretary-General of opposition Acción Democrática (AD) party, forecast.

* In view of the appointment of the new board of the National Electoral Council (CNE), NGO Súmate member Oscar Vallés considered that a joint opposition now is more needed than ever to fight for democratic conditions.

* "We should keep on fighting, fostering election rights and prompting clean conditions to cement electoral culture, a democracy in Venezuela that can be blurred under no circumstances whatsoever," was the Súmate representative's promise.

* Janeth Hernández, Tibisay Lucena, Sandra Oblitas, Vicente Díaz and Germán Yépez were sworn in Friday by the National Assembly (AN) as new directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE).

* Roberto Hernández, the chair of the Electoral Nominations Committee, noted that the body worked hard to define the fittest candidates to occupy the positions at CNE. AN President Nicolás Maduro recognized the Committee efforts, by considering that the right decision was made.

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