[This article was originally published in Spanish on Prodavinci.com.]
In 2006 Venezuela’s elections body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), stopped inviting international observation missions from hemispheric organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union, in addition to limiting the role that up to that year had been played by the Carter Center.
According to documents approved by the CNE rectors, international electoral observation efforts (such as those carried out by OAS, the European Union, and the Carter Center) are “linked to the processes of decolonization experienced by African and Asian countries since the 60’s.” In addition, from the CNE’s perspective, international observation is “framed by a strong asymmetric understanding of tutelage and legitimation based on the values of the observer…these processes correspond to a Eurocentric and ethnocentric North-South vision.”
1. What does CNE president Tibisay Lucena mean when she says the CNE will prevent electoral tourism and will not invite professional tourists (paseadores de oficio)?
On 17 September 2015, Tibisay Lucena explained that the program for electoral accompaniment for the December 2015 legislative elections will follow the main lines established in 2006 so as to prevent “electoral tourism…and [the coming of] politicians who pretend to be electoral experts.” Asked in a press conference if by “electoral tourism” she meant the Carter Center, OAS, and the European Union, Lucena declined to answer. However in a press release issued in August 24, Lucena and the other 4 rectors of the CNE’s directive answered a request by OAS to send an electoral observation mission in the following terms:
The CNE reminds the office of the Secretary General of OAS that the attributions of the Secretary are solely administrative, therefore it cannot pretend to substitute for the legitimate and autonomous powers of the Venezuelan State. The Secretary General of OAS, Luis Almagro, has inherited the long term distrust and discredit that the continent’s free and independent nations of the continent feel for that organization. The Venezuelan Electoral Power is the sole guarantor of the transparency and legitimacy of the Venezuelan electoral process.
2. What is the difference between “observation” and “accompaniment?” Why can’t the OAS, the European Union, and the Carter Center accept the roles of “companions?”
There are clear semantic difference between the terms “observation” and “accompaniment,” but there are also technical differences. International electoral observation missions usually present concrete plans for the verification of all the phases of the electoral process and they arrive at the countries that have accepted their presences weeks in advance of electoral event. But in the case of accompaniment, the CNE has limited the date of their arrival to the country to only one week before the elections.
In 2012 the Carter Center declined an invitation to accompany that year’s presidential elections because of budgetary and logistical limitations. However the Carter Center issued a press release explaining the purpose of accompaniment is: “to invite foreign individuals to observe the activities on elections day, mostly in a political and symbolic capacity; whereas the purpose of observation is to invite international organizations to systematically evaluate the whole of the electoral process.”
The European Union and the OAS have repeatedly expressed their willingness to send missions to Venezuela, but they have not been formally invited again.
3. Who will do the accompaniment for the December 2015 legislative elections?
As of September 18, the CNE had only formally invited UNASUR. However in the coming days it will extend invitations to representatives of MERCOSUR, the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CELA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC), the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), the MERCOSUR parliament (PARLASUR), and the Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO). The CNE will also invite the electoral authorities of countries with which it has cooperation agreements: Russia, India, Philippines, Mali, and South Korea, and those with which it is developing future agreements, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union.
4. What are the countries and individuals invited by the CNE under the figure of accompaniment able to do?
According to CNE’s norms, international accompaniment missions are forbidden from making declarations without CNE authorization. They also must commit to the confidentiality of their reports and to make them available only after the official CNE results have been announced. According to Article 487 of the Electoral Rules, the CNE may revoke the “international accompaniment credentials” if it considers that the mission has transgressed the legal norms and rules, the Plan for International Electoral Accompaniment, or any additional instructions issued by the CNE.
5. Is there any change with respect to previous electoral processes?
The only real advance is the time for the accompaniment missions to arrive and remain in the country. Initially the CNE had scheduled the process for November 30 to December 7, however the president of the CNE has announced that the missions may also come to the country in time for the technical audits of the system, the most important of which are scheduled to begin the first week of October.
6. Are all the directors of the CNE in agreement with Tibisay Lucena’s position?
In the past, ex-rector Vicente Díaz, and now Luis Emilio Rondón who replaced Díaz in December 2014, have publically declared their disagreement with the position of the rest of the CNE rectors. Vicente Díaz has declared that the term observation “psychologically presupposes an observant subject and an observed object. Observation entails diagnosis and conclusions. Accompaniment can mean almost anything, but an [observation] mission is more systematic and goes in deeper.” Díaz has also said that with the CNE’s refusal to allow international technical observation missions, “they seem to be trying to sell the idea that they don’t want the observation because there is something murky about it, but [instead] they could be trying to discourage those voters who are sensitive about electoral guarantees.”
Luis Emilio Rondón, the current president of Finance and Political Participation of the CNE, has repeatedly stated that:
These [international observation] processes have to be seen from two perspectives: on the one hand they allow for an international certification that the Venezuelan electoral processes follow the requirements of formal democracy, our Constitution, and the laws. On the other hand, they give the observers a chance to learn from the Venezuelan experience and improve their own processes…Observation should not be understood as an intromission of third parties in the country, it has nothing to do with monitoring, nor does it infringe the sovereignty and self-determination of our people.
7. When was the last time there was international electoral observation in Venezuela?
The last time international technical observation missions came to the country was for the legislative elections of 2005. For the presidential elections of 2006 there were no international observation missions, however 200 international observers from the OAS and the European Union came to the country two months before the elections. In both cases (2005 and 2006) the general evaluation of the elections by the international technicians was positive, although some (especially the European Union) did issue recommendations about institutional propaganda, incumbent’s advantage, and the role of public officials during the electoral campaign.
8. Did the CNE follow the recommendations made by international observers?
In the last decade the CNE has applied several of the recommendations made by the European Union. For example: The observation missions of 2005 and 2006 suggested, to avoid confusion, the increase of the size of the circles where the voters mark their choice on the electoral ballots, and to discontinue the selective use of fingerprint scanning machines. Both recommendations were followed by the CNE. However the European Union also recommended that the CNE should “give priority to the legal sanctioning mechanisms for electoral offenses and crimes…so as to punish or dissuade offenses before the end of the electoral campaign.” They also suggested the “suspension of institutional publicity, at the national, state, and local levels,” and the limitation of public official’s activities during the electoral campaign. None of these recommendations were accepted by the CNE. Indeed they were publically criticized by the CNE authorities and by officials of the Chavez and Maduro governments.
9. If electoral observers are not invited, can they make declarations about the elections?
Following the 2013 presidential elections, the Presidency of the European Parliament, after receiving a CNE report about the electoral system’s audits, issued a press release explaining that it had “taken note” of the interesting report, however it regretted the CNE’s decision not to invite the European Union to be part of the electoral technical observation missions.
The press release, issued by the then president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, stated that the European Parliament had “closely followed” the electoral event but also explained that an electoral technical observation mission from the European Union, of which the Parliament would have been part, could have contributed to “reduce the polarization in Venezuelan society.” It also insisted that a mission could have carefully supervised the electoral event of April 14, 2013.
10. Is the Venezuelan opposition the only party asking for electoral observation?
Electoral observation has been requested by politicians and technicians linked to the opposition, but also by people who in the past were part of the Chavez’s government or who at some point publicly supported the Bolivarian Revolution.
For example: in August 15 a group of ex-government officials and academics with past links to the Revolution, asked the CNE to allow the presence of international observation. The group, formed by Javier Elechiguerra (ex-Attorney General,) Felipe Pérez Martí (ex-Planning Minister,) and academics Arnaldo Esté, Luis Fuenmayor Toro, Alberto Hernández, and Margarita López Maya, argued that the Venezuelan electoral system:
with its sophisticated technical platform, designed for transparency, has increasingly become for the common citizen a black box, of which he knows the input and the output, but not the main aspects of its internal process. The system is highly computerized and its reliability is presumed form a supposed technical and operational invulnerability of its systems and equipment. The results of circumstantial technical audits, made with the participation of independent and opposition technicians have not been sufficiently publicized by officials and have not increased confidence in the system.
They also stated that “throughout its main phases and levels the CNE has become increasingly partisan, and has turned away from its ideal of independence, transparency, and professionalism.”
Translated by Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde