A Troubled Relationship: Venezuela’s Opposition and the National Electoral Council

By Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

 

A day after the official end of the campaign, on Friday the 12th, Carlos Ocariz, speaking for the opposition campaign command, denounced the State TV channel VTV to the CNE for continuing to air electoral propaganda beyond the time limit established by the CNE of April 11th, 12:00pm. Ocariz argued that VTV had illegally transmitted more than 4 hours and 18 minutes of information with “political and electoral content and intention,” after that time limit. He explicitly cited the broadcasting of Argentinean Diego Armando Maradona calling for Venezuelans to vote for Maduro.

Most of the “information with political intent” denounced by the opposition was that of  recurring images and clips shown by the channel that recalled the April 11, 2002 coup against Chavez. In fact they can still be watched on the main web page of VTV.

On Friday the 12th, opposition candidate Capriles continued to emphasize  the issue via his twitter account: “VTV is unashamedly violating the electoral law! Ms. Lucena, will you uphold the law? The campaign ended yesterday!”

The day before, on Thursday April 11th, Liliana Hernández, representative of the opposition campaign to the CNE, claimed in an interview on Venevisión that the CNE had not answered 155 denunciations that the opposition has made. Of those, the only one she was specific about was the use of children for campaign purposes in the government’s campaign (the interview can be seen here).

On an interview for Globovision, CNE rector Tibisay Lucena directly answered some of the opposition claims. To Capriles her answer was: “Twitter is not the place for denunciations. That must be done at the National Electoral Council.” To the concrete claims made by Ocariz about the “electoral content” of VTV programing she answered that April 11 2002 was a historical event and that the CNE had not found that the channel had “used it as propaganda” (the complete interview can be seen here).

Friday saw the latest episode of a tit-for-tat between the opposition and the CNE that has been ongoing since March, well before the short electoral campaign. The opposition has been claiming that the CNE is an institution “technically” capable of ensuring the secrecy of the vote and run a clean election, but that it is ineffectual in curbing the incumbent´s advantage (The only departure from this strategy was the BIOS code scandal, but even in that instance the opposition was careful to stress that the integrity of the electoral process was not in question. See our previous post here).

On a letter to the Rectors of the CNE signed on March 18th by Guillermo Aveledo, a representative of the MUD, the opposition platform presented several requirements for Sunday´s Presidential elections. After minor technical requirements (such as revision of the indelible ink and other technicalities of the electoral process), Aveledo made several petitions referring to the incumbent´s advantage: The elimination of the cadenas during the campaign (a recurrent source of criticism by the opposition, but one that the CNE has repeatedly claimed it has no power to regulate); the control and limitation of the use of the Sistema Bolivariano de Comunicación en Information (State media) for campaign purposes; and in general the control of the use of public resources for electoral propaganda (the letter directly mentions governmental web pages and public buildings; see a graphic example of electoral propaganda in a public building in our previous post).

The letter was not directly answered by the CNE but on March 17th, when responding to comments made by Roberta Jacobson (see our comments on Roberta Jacobson´s declarations), Tibisay Lucena claimed to be “revising petitions and requirements made by political organizations that participate in the elections with the purpose of incorporating new guarantees that strengthen the transparency of the electoral system.“

 In a press note on March 27th, the CNE announced the opening of two new administrative investigations for presumed electoral irregularities by government institutions: one was a letter sent by the director of a Popular Clinic in Nueva Esparta State asking the employees to donate one day of their salary to the electoral campaign of the PSUV (the one-day salary donation by militants is a PSUV financing strategy), and the suspension of electoral propaganda by a pro-government organization aired by VTV and published by government newspapers Vea and Ciudad Caracas. But in its note the CNE again refrained from referring to use of the cadenas. Previously, on March 25th, the CNE announced that it had also ordered the suspension of electoral propaganda by the pro-opposition organization Mujeres por la Libertad, published in El Nacional, Tal Cual, and 2001 newspapers.

Given the widespread partisan character of Venezuela´s media (both private and public), these investigations announced by the CNE seem but token efforts. However, in yesterday´s Gobovision interview, Tibisay Lucena referred to these cases when she claimed that the CNE was in effect already processing instances of media abuse and that those cases needed time “to be substantiated” thus rendering any investigation ineffectual for the current campaign. She also declared that the CNE had ordered that “propaganda be taken out of public buildings,” something that has obviously not happened in many instances.

A separate recent event also illustrates the difficult relations between the opposition and the CNE. On April 8, Tibisay Lucena declared that the CNE had accepted the proposition made by the Comando Hugo Chávez (Maduro’s campaign command) to ask the candidates to sign a deal to recognize the electoral results. She informed that the agreement would be ready for the candidates’ signatures the next day from 3:00pm on. The text, called “An Agreement for Democracy,” was dutifully signed by Maduro that day (The pdf image of the document can be downloaded from the CNE web page here).

Rather than signing this document, Capriles instead signed a different document and sent it to the CNE with one of the representatives of the opposition campaign, Carlos Vecchio. In Caprile´s document, entitled “My Agreement is With Venezuela”, he expresses his “commitment to again respect the popular will.” But he also adds the following criticism of the CNE: “Facing the negligence of the National Electoral Council, I remind the Rectors that their duty is to uphold the rulings of the Constitution and the laws that regulate elections. [I remind them] that they should give appropriate and timely answers to the more than one hundred denunciations we have remanded to this organism regarding violations of the law, some of which are electoral crimes.”

Significantly, when referring to the Rectors in his agreement, Capriles used the feminine form in Spanish, implying he was addressing the four pro-government Rectors (who are women), but not addressing, and thus relieving from responsibility, the pro-opposition Rector Vicente Díaz (the text can be read here). According to El Universal the CNE refused to receive Caprile´s document because it was not written in the CNE’s format.