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Post-election disputes and Venezuelan law

Venezuela has a detailed electoral law and accompanying regulations that describe procedures for contesting election results, which both Maduro and Capriles can look to for guidance, writes WOLA.

By David SmildeWOLA / April 18, 2013

Supporters of opposition leader Henrique Capriles hit pots and pans while taking part in a demonstration asking for a recount of the votes in Sunday's election in Caracas, April 17.

Tomas Bravo/Reuters

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 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.

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On April 14, Venezuela’s voters shocked the world by electing Nicolás Maduro to the presidency with a narrow margin-just weeks after he enjoyed a fifteen point lead in the polls. This is not the first time that Venezuelans have upended expectations. On August 15, 2004, they reaffirmed support for then-president Hugo Chávez in a recall referendum that most people were confident Chávez would lose. On December 2, 2007, they turned back Chávez’s attempt to change the constitution, less than a year after they reelected him with an overwhelming majority. 

Universal and anonymous suffrage gives citizens a unique ability to change the course of history, a course normally determined by people in power. Venezuelans have done it time and again, a fact that Venezuela’s leaders would do well to remember as they navigate the current political crisis.

Henrique Capriles deserves applause for having called off the opposition march to the offices of the CNE (National Electoral Council) that was to have taken place [yesterday] in Caracas. In the face of Mr. Maduro’s refusal to permit the march and the likelihood of violence occurring between opposition and government supporters, Mr. Capriles made the right decision. He also deserves applause for beginning to discuss in more details the evidence for the electoral irregularities being alleged by the opposition.

But given the severity of the allegations that the opposition has made, much more is needed from Capriles. Venezuela has a detailed electoral law and accompanying regulations that describe procedures for contesting election results. The law itself is not ambiguous and has been used before. And the opposition coalition has any number of legal experts and electoral technicians who fully understand the system and what they need to do. If they actually have a case to make, they should have no problem putting it together and presenting it accordingly. 

Specifically, the opposition needs to assemble a dossier of denunciations with clear numeric estimates of how many votes each denunciation supposedly accounts for. Saying, for example, that 535 voting machines were damaged and they accounted for 190,000 votes is not enough. They need to show that past tendencies in that electoral center suggest these damaged machines would have narrowed the gap in favor of Capriles. That would be easy enough given that detailed information on past elections is publicly available.

As well, they need to explain how these denunciations relate to their demand for a 100 percent recount. The types of denunciations they have mentioned so far have led, in the past, to re-votes in given electoral centers where irregularities were shown to have occurred. But given that the paper ballots form the April 14 election are simply receipts of the electronic vote, such a recount would only make sense if the oppositions is contending that there were errors or irregularities in the electronic transmissions to the CNE, or in the tabulation of votes in the CNE. Yet the opposition has not mentioned any such error or irregularity.

To submit their allegations for consideration, the opposition coalition needs to file this information with the CNE. If they don’t, it is going to look like they are recklessly immersing the country into a political crisis before having their facts straight. They should also make this evidence public so that independent journalists and experts can follow up on it. 

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