Venezuelan elections were ‘deficient’: Carter Center

CARACAS, Venezuela, AP

A prominent U.S. observer group has criticized recent elections here, saying Venezuela’s Electoral Council has still not resolved dozens of complaints about irregularities in voting last year.

The Carter Center — founded and headed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter — on Wednesday said that partisan electoral officials and technical difficulties had weakened the credibility of Venezuela’s electoral system.

However, the group did not dispute President Hugo Chavez’s overwhelming re-election that day — a vote that was challenged by his main opponent.

“While we don’t believe the irregularities observed in the elections would have changed the results of the presidential election, the politicization of the elections and organizational deficiencies contributed to a lack of confidence in the process and in the non-presidential results, reasons for which we characterize the July 2000 elections as deficient,” the Carter Center’s final report said.

The report also criticized the Electoral Council’s snail-paced scrutiny of more than 100 still unresolved complaints of irregularities in gubernatorial and mayoral elections held July 30.

Chavez says he is leading a “social revolution” to oust a corrupt and elitist political class and return power to the poor. He introduced a new constitution in a 1999 referendum that required more than 1,500 public offices to be “re-legitimized” through new voting. There have been six ballots in his two years in power.

Venezuelans elected a president, congressional representatives, governors and mayors on the same day, July 30, in balloting that the Carter Center described as the most complex it had monitored.

The Carter Center presented its report during a forum on Venezuelan democracy. In the front row were three former opposition governors who are still waiting for the Electoral Council to rule on their complaints.

The Electoral Council’s political partiality was partly to blame for its failure to organize the elections by May 28, the original date for voting, the Carter Center said.

Under pressure from Chavez’s leftist Patriotic Pole coalition, the council initially agreed to hold elections months earlier than dates recommended by technical experts. Later, at the urging of Patriotic Pole candidates, the council made hundreds of last-minute changes to the electoral database, meaning voting machines could not be programmed on time.

The Carter Center also pointed out that the council had held manual recounts in four gubernatorial elections, but after several months had failed to rule on results in three recounts.

A recount in more than 100 voting centers in Merida state revealed that someone had tampered with the ballot boxes, because a knife was found in one and human excrement in another, the Carter Center report said. The Electoral Council has not published the results of that recount.