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Venezuela's Maduro victory upheld in audit - but opposition says fight not over

Venezuela's electoral council confirmed Maduro’s presidential victory, but the decision will do little to ease the political crisis. The opposition says it will bring fraud charges before international courts.

By Andrew RosatiCorrespondent / June 12, 2013

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reacts while attending a mass at the mausoleum of late President Hugo Chavez to mark three months after his death in Caracas, June 5, 2013.

Jorge Silva/REUTERS

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Caracas, Venezuela

After nearly two tumultuous months, Venezuela's electoral council officially ratified Nicolás Maduro’s presidential victory yesterday. In announcing the results of an audit of April’s razor thin election results, council head Tibisay Lucena said the vote "accurately reflects the will of the [Venezuelan] people."

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But the decision will do little to quell the political crisis here as the country's opposition now says it's set to take its case before international courts.

"We first want to exhaust all local, institutional means," says Gerardo Blyde, a member of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), the political coalition contesting the results. "We're waiting for a response to our complaints before going to bodies such as the Organization of American States (OAS)."

Claiming Mr. Maduro's victory was fraught with fraud, Venezuela's political opposition lodged complaints before the Supreme Court last month, demanding a new vote. Calls for international action could help to bolster MUD's efforts at home; however, analysts say no international body is likely to overturn April's election results.

While “there’s a lot of luster” behind recommendations and rulings that come from international bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights or the United Nations's Human Rights Committee, “there are no immediate consequences,” says Robert Sloane, a professor of international law at Boston University Law School.

Mr. Sloane adds that while decisions can help garner international support; in terms of authority, "ultimately, it's more important what neighboring countries think."

‘Incomplete’ audit

The opposition has cried foul since Election Day, when candidate Henrique Capriles lost by less than two percentage points. His supporters say voter irregularities – such as intimidation and identity fraud – occurred in over 5,000 polling stations and paved the way for Maduro's Victory. 
 
Despite the complaints, South American leaders were quick to congratulate Hugo Chávez's successor, unanimously recognizing Maduro as president. But the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) pressured the Venezuelan government to launch an election audit in an effort to settle its domestic strife.

Mr. Blyde, who is helping lead the MUD's legal proceedings, explains that the terms of the audit fail to alleviate the opposition's doubts. "It's incomplete and lousy," he says, "We're not going to recognize its results."
 
A proper review, Blyde says, requires comparing signed voter logs and fingerprints taken on Election Day with electronic results and receipts. The electoral authority has refused to do so, stating that it would violate Venezuela's voting laws.

"Voter books are not subject to review at any stage of the citizen verification audit, because that's what the law establishes," Ms. Lucena said on state television Tuesday. "The verification includes, as we have said, reviewing the voting receipts in relation to scrutinized polling machine data."

Municipal Elections

Observers widely expect the Supreme Court to side with Venezuela's electoral council.

"Decisions made [by these authorities] are largely based on politics, rather than legality," says José Vicente Haro, a professor of constitutional law at Andrés Bello Catholic University, in Caracas.
 
Despite his plummeting poll numbers, Maduro has been quick to dismiss any evidence of fraud and Mr. Haro expects the Supreme Court to follow suit.

While Haro agrees that international bodies will likely not be able to bring about a new vote, he says the opposition must pursue these legal battles in order to maintain relevancy in future elections.

"To maintain support among the electorate, the MUD needs to continue its fight for better conditions in future elections," he says.

David Smilde, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, agrees. Venezuela's electoral council recently confirmed municipal elections will take place Dec. 8, 2013. “The opposition has been extremely successful with its domestic audience,” Mr. Smilde says. And with municipal elections on the horizon, the MUD’s international efforts may be more directed toward attracting Venezuelan voters.

Follow Andrew Rosati on Twitter at @andrewrosati

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