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Venezuelan Electoral Authorities Deny Expat Voting

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Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere
Memorandum to the Press 03.70

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Venezuelan Electoral Authorities Deny Expatriates Their Voting Rights, a Set-Back to Venezuelan Democracy

On Friday, November 14, Venezuela’s independent National Electoral Council (CNE) decided that Venezuelan citizens living abroad could not participate in a petition calling for a referendum on President Hugo Chávez’s continued rule.

The opposition-backed petitioning drive, known to Venezuelans as the “reafirmazo,” will take place from November 28-December 1 of this year. The CNE, a non-partisan body, is in charge of monitoring the entire process.

An estimated 300,000 Venezuelans live outside their country and the country’s Chávez-authored current constitution grants them the right to participate in electoral processes such as the referendum and the “reafirmazo.” Nevertheless, the CNE has exercised its rights and has refused to make arrangements for these potential voters to exercise theirs, on the grounds that it was technically impossible to monitor the petition drive abroad.

In Venezuela, the CNE has managed to train 2,842 volunteers to monitor the “reafirmazo.” It will also set up a call center and provide cell-phones for monitors across the country to report developments and results. Over the past month, representatives of Venezuelan political and civil society groups abroad offered to assist the Venezuelan government to set up a monitoring mechanism in the country’s consulates abroad, but the CNE’s decision rules out that possibility.

Decisions in the CNE are made by a board of five rectors, three of whom voted against holding the “reafirmazo” abroad. Several solutions to the issue were proposed earlier last week. Rector Jorge Rodriguez for example, said that only 26,555 petition forms should have been sent abroad, because that is the number of Venezuelans who have registered as voters in their consulates.

Rector Sobelia Mejias, who voted against the CNE’s final decision, demanded that the electoral body facilitate the participation of all Venezuelans abroad, on the grounds that most Venezuelans in foreign residences are registered voters, but in their hometown’s, not their consulate’s registry. In an October 21 proclamation, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Garcia stated that any Venezuelan who is registered on the electoral record (regardless of place) should be allowed to participate in national electoral activities.

The CNE’s ultimate decision can be considered to be a significant setback for Venezuelan democracy, even if it deserves being seen as giving a boost to Chávez, because most Venezuelans living abroad can be assumed to be anti-Chavistas. It could be argued that Venezuela’s institutions should have striven to overcome all technical obstacles in order to guarantee the right of all of the country’s citizens to participate in the “reafirmazo”, or any other national electoral process sanctioned by the country’s organic law. Sadly, one must conclude that it was not so much the lack of a technical capacity but rather of political will which has denied the Venezuelan diaspora’s right to exercise their franchise.

This analysis was prepared by Manuel Rueda, COHA Research Fellow.

Issued 18 November 2003

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