CARACAS, Saturday April 27, 2013 | Update

The reasonable doubts about April 14 presidential election

More than four million votes did not match when recounting ballot by ballot. The Election Day that took place last Sunday April 14 will be remembered because of excesses with assisted vote and several election audits in the absence of witnesses

The Election Day was clouded by all the fear instilled by certain groups (Gustavo Bandres)
Saturday April 27, 2013  12:00 AM
This time, the outcome of the election results may have been different. Members from pro-government presidential campaign team Hugo Chávez note that more than 20% of the audit records do not match with the audit report compiled last April 14 by the end of election day.

The election results were not even vouched by all election observers who had been assisting the National Electoral Council (CNE) since 2006 in the last 10 elections. This applies to the Election Monitoring Network from non-governmental organization Asamblea de Educación, whose active members warn that with such a narrow winning margin like the one witnessed by most Venezuelans last Sunday, the so-called assisted vote and the scrutiny process without witnesses may have disrupted the balance.

"The election results are not questioned; however, it makes it impossible for us to accept irreversible results when the difference is smaller than the number of voters registered at the voting centers where irregularities took place," Carenne Ludeña from Election Monitoring Network explains.

The closing of polls was filled with violence, and as a matter of fact, 10% of the audit was made without witnesses from civil society or representatives from the opposition sector. Additionally, it was quite common to find officers casting ballots with a supervisor behind them, violating the right of secret vote.

Such electoral irregularities prevailed in most of the more than 1,200 denunciations issued by eight well-established NGO's which form part of Citizen Election Network. "The incidence of unjustified assisted vote was systematic in municipalities like Mara del Zulia," Andrés Azpúrua, in charge of this platform, expresses. "We do not know the percentage of citizens forced to make use of assisted vote; nevertheless, such denunciations estimate a considerable number of voters who reported irregularities like this one."


COERCED BALLOTS. The so-called assisted vote prevailed and was given to people who did not require it. On April 14, several cases were highlighted regarding voters accompanied by persons who stayed close to the polling stations in order to monitor their ballots. The Election Monitoring Network certified such issue at 5% in the schools they were monitoring throughout the country, whereas other eight organizations grouped in the Citizen Election Network received a total of 120 denunciations regarding coercion and unjustified companions.

The most emblematic cases come from Mara municipality, located in Zulia state, where Mayor Luis Caldera threatened to fire those employees who could disavow the assisted vote, through community television Home Channel. In other areas of Zulia, Guárico and Barinas states, the existence of polling stations which counted on no folding screens was reported, which means that the right to secret vote was not enforced.

BALLOT REVIEW AND RECOUNTING WITH NO WITNESSES. The National Electoral Council sought shelter under an audit of 54% of the boxes; notwithstanding, the whole scrutiny process was not transparent, since some ballot reviews and recounting were conducted without the presence of citizens, and in some cases, even without the presence of representatives from the opposition sector.

DUMPED BALLOTS. A local resident from Barinas state found in the morning of Monday 15 April a box filled with ballots dumped along thoroughfare 5. The finding led to a protest provoked by local residents, who refused to hand in the material until public prosecutors and CNE staff issued a report as to recount those ballots. Since they did not reach an agreement, the local police (Barinas Police) and the National Guard attempted to resolve the situation by throwing tear gas canisters to break up the demonstration and to have the box under their possession.

FAKE ID CARDS. Among the irregularities of the recent election, the case occurred at Aplicación de Caracas School comes to the fore. There, the National Bolivarian Police arrested a subject in possession of a bunch of 40 laminated ID cards, all of them issued on August 2012.

NUMERICAL INCONSISTENCIES. The week after the elections, in some polling stations  there were more votes than voters. Carlos Ocariz, a member from Simón Bolívar Command, claims that the voting day audits after closing occurred on April 14 warn that more than 20% of the vote records do not match with the scrutiny results. That is to say, more than four million votes did not match at the time of recounting ballot by ballot.

REOPENING AND LATE CLOSING OF POLLS. Certain voting centers closed before 5:00 pm, and some others remained open after the stipulated closing time: 6:00 pm, even without voters lining up in order to cast a ballot. This is the case of Mercedes Limardo School, located in Mamera, where they let in a group of pro-government citizens so they could vote, when the voting center was to be closed.

Notwithstanding, at Manuel Antonio Carreño High School, located in Maracay, the capital city of central Aragua state,  and Las Carolinas Complex, located in Maturín, the capital city of Monagas state, public upheaval prevailed as some voters were banned from voting even shortly after 4:30 pm.

INTIMIDATION AND VIOLENCE. The Election Day occurred last Sunday was clouded by groups which instilled fear and staged protests in the states of Apure, Aragua, Miranda, Sucre and Zulia. In every case, the pattern was the same: people were attacked near polling centers by government supporters riding bikes, who surrounded the facilities from the time the polling stations were closed until the citizen audits began.

DAMAGED VOTING MACHINES. Opposition candidate running for president Henrique Capriles denounced the existence of a total number of 535 damaged voting machines which affected a number of 189,982 voters.  Jorge Rodríguez, a member of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), answered back that it concerned a number of ballots that would not adversely affect the election process: "Then CNE counts on a contingency of 10%, which accounts for more than three thousand voting machines."

POLITICAL PROPAGANDA AND PROSELYTISM. In many areas, the election advertising campaign was extended until the very day of the election: current President Nicolás Maduro's supporters stood out by calling people to vote for their candidate in the very streets and even on the media from states like Bolívar, where Governor Francisco Rangel Gómez made a mandatory nationwide broadcast on 60 radio stations for electioneering.

ARRESTS AND ABUSES. Certain military officers crossed the line last April 14. The Military Intelligence Division (DIM) held Diego Scharifker prisoner, as well as other youngsters supporters of political party Un Nuevo Tiempo, because of encouraging and calling people to vote in Chacao municipality, Caracas. In regards to Barinas state, military officers from Plan República (Republic Plan) arrested Carlos Enrique Azuaje, because of demanding the folding screen to be lifted up to the established height at a polling center in Las Veguitas.

Later, when the polling stations started to close the polls, the Venezuelan Government violated the right to freedom of expression by interrupting the national broadband service offered by state-led company National Telephone Company of Venezuela (CANTV) for more than 20 minutes.

Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."