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The Sham that was the Opposition Primaries


The opposition didn’t hold primaries on Sunday for their presidential candidate as well as some mayoral and state candidates because they care about democratic methods and membership participation. The Democratic Unity Table (MUD), the opposition electoral umbrella group, unites individuals and parties who signed the Punto Fijo Pact (a power sharing agreement between AD and COPEI which prevented anyone else from governing for forty years), who supported and carried out the 2002 coup attempt, who own a vast amount of Venezuela’s large businesses, and who regularly visit Washington asking for funding and support, so participation, transparency, and democracy are clearly not high on their list of priorities.

The opposition members competing to be presidential candidate came from the most elite sectors of society, and paid the MUD the equivalent of US$ 232,000 each to participate in the primaries. In this sense the primaries were one more theatrical performance where the super rich pretend to care about general opinion in order to convince the poor and working class to vote for them.

Further, the forever divided opposition, always competing among each other and squabbling over positions, making behind closed doors deals, then betraying each other, needs “unity” and one single candidate in order to stand a chance against Chavez. Unable to reach any agreement, primaries were the best way for them to choose that person.

The most the opposition will ever represent to ordinary Venezuelans is an alternative to Chavez. That fact, along with Henrique Capriles Radonski’s vague and meaningless campaign slogan “There’s a path,” was hardly enough to get people jumping and marching with excitement, so when it came time for the primaries, the opposition ultimately lied about voter turnout in order to make their “movement” seem stronger, to give it motivation in the lead up to the October presidential elections, and give their presidential candidate more legitimacy.

Double standards in using the National Electoral Council (CNE)

A large part of the opposition’s anti-Chavez discourse involves allusions to repression, to lack of freedom of speech and lack of general “freedom”. To further delegitimise the government and its electoral victories, they often speak of the CNE’s “bias”. Yet on Sunday they happily used the CNE to carry out their elections, and at the same time as they went around crying “repression”, were free to organise their elections, to campaign for them (using mostly lies and distortions) and then to vote in them in the way that they wanted.

Yet in order to understand the fraud they would commit, it’s important to be clear of the role the CNE played in the primaries. As an impartial institution, the CNE, with the help of the armed forces, runs all public elections, and unions and other political parties also have the option of its services. On Sunday the CNE supplied voting machines, credentials, and data processing, but the MUD was in charge of deciding and declaring the results, the general running of the elections and the voting norms, certifying the voting records, and witnesses.

Making up voting results and attendance numbers

According to the electoral commission of the MUD, 2,904,710 people voted in their primaries, and Capriles received 62% support, with 1.8 million votes. There are a number of reasons why those figures are impossible.

On Monday Journalist Mario Silver showed an email on his television program from the personal account of Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, secretary of the MUD, who wrote to Henrique Salas Romer at 3.52pm on Sunday, that so far 765,790 people had voted. It’s not clear how Silver got hold of this email, but mathematics prove the fraud anyway:

The MUD used 7,691 voting machines, from 8am to 5pm (9 hours). Assuming that voters were voting all day, without pause, which is never the case in Venezuela- Venezuelans like to vote early in the mornings, and which was clearly not the case to anyone observing the voting – many of the schools used were utterly empty by about 1pm- each voter would have had 76 seconds to vote. That is impossible, considering each voter enters the voting room one at a time to show their identification, register on a list, listen to the ‘how to’ explanation, vote not just for the presidential candidate, but also for governor and mayoral candidates, stick the paper version of their vote in a box, then dip their finger in permanent ink. Capriles later told press that he took 15 second to vote, which is ridiculous, unless he illegally skipped all the steps.

For comparison’s sake, the PSUV, in its primaries for its national assembly candidates for the 2010 elections, had 2.5 million voters spread over13,367 voting machines. The opposition that year held primaries for the most disputed candidates, in 15 of 87 electoral circuits, and claiming that 300,000 had voted.

Also, in the past, it was common in Venezuela for people to use fake identification in order to vote multiple times. Since then, it has become essential, and part of the delight of voting in Venezuelan elections, that voters dip their finger in permanent ink after voting, so that it is impossible for them to vote twice. The CNE has also started using fingerprint reading machines to further prevent multiple voting. Yet the MUD did not use the fingerprint machines, and made the permanent ink optional.

It was also suspicious that Pablo Perez (who came second) congratulated Capriles and offered him his support just ten minutes after the results announcement. Then, Maria Machado (who came third) even accepted her defeat on live television some time before the results were announced.  “It’s a great citizen victory that strengthens unity, I’ve just talked to Henrique Capriles Radonski and now we’ll go over to your campaign team,” she said, while the opposition TV presenter Leopoldo Castillo looked on with an astonished face, then interrupted her to stop her saying more.

A few PSUV leaders have speculated that the MUD falsified voter turnout figures to give them a basis to not recognise the election results in October. However, I think it’s more likely that they are trying to invent support and build up voter motivation, which has declined after 13 years of constantly losing elections (with the exception of the 2007 referendum).

Burning the books

The MUD has now literally burned all possible evidence to prove any fraud. This is despite a Supreme Court Justice (TSJ) order that they hand over all electoral material to be looked after by the Republican Plan (the armed forces assigned to assuring smooth and peaceful elections).

The order was in response to an appeal lodged by one opposition member, Rafael Velasquez, who was apparently beaten in the primaries for candidate for mayor of Burzual, Yaracuy state. Velasquez denounced irregularities in the candidate selection process, the voting, and expressed doubts of the results, requesting the electoral lists in order to be able to verify them.

Velasquez also said that he “effectively observed a voting booth where there were more votes than voters [registered]”.

Two other opposition candidates in the primaries for mayoral positions, Antonio Ecarri and William Ojeda, are also reported to have lodged the same complaints.

The TSJ ruled that the opposition had 24 hours to hand over the voting books, a ruling the opposition ignored, burning all of their books by 5pm yesterday.

Yet, in typical opposition style, exactly who burned what, and when, was unclear. Although the MUD had formally stated (and its electoral regulations also stated) that it would wait 48 hours after the results to burn the voting material, after the TSJ ruling, Pablo Perez said the books had already been burnt, Maria Corina Machado said on her Twitter account that the MUD was going to look after the books, Andres Velasquez, opposition candidate for governor in Bolivar state said they had already burnt the electoral books, as did the MUD in Carabobo state.

According to the newspaper El Aragueno, one man also died during burning of electoral registers in Aragua state. The man was nearby when protestors were defending the registers and during confrontations police drove a vehicle through a group of people, running over and killing the man.  Four others were arrested.

Hours after the TSJ ruling, and 12 hours before the MUD’s stipulated 48 were up, the MUD told press the burning was necessary to “safeguard the secret vote,” and Edinson Ferre, youth representative of the MUD, announced that “we have contacted all states and 100% of the voting books that were used on February 12 have been destroyed”.

“Therefore both the ballots that were cast and the people who voted are a secret,” he said.

Why such secrecy? The always anti-Chavista BBC speculated that there “were also fears that those who voted could face government reprisals” without, of course, citing any evidence of that fear or quoting anyone, nor citing a single electoral incident in the past where something like that has happened.

The idea of burning electoral material afterwards is not common in Venezuelan elections, though the opposition did burn their electoral books in their 2010 primaries. Conveniently, the mainstream media has so far not mentioned the undemocratic nature of the burning, which means that now no vote results can be recounted, verified, or challenged, and there is no transparency.

Dirty campaigning on the day

Rebelion writer Jean Guy Allard said that according to “observers” Capriles’ campaigners committed electoral crimes, such as handing out leaflets near voting centres, and buying votes. While another candidate in the primaries for president, Diego Arria, said private opposition TV station, Globovision, had “censured” him when he went to vote; “they censured everything I said today when I voted, but they broadcast their favourite clients” he complained on Twitter, referring to the other candidates.

The president of the MUD electoral commission also denounced that Pablo Perez’s campaigners were running raffles on or near voting centres, offering household appliances such as fridges as possible prizes.

International mainstream media goes balmy for Capriles

The mainstream media has gone bonkers over the primaries, not questioning the outcome, and celebrating the fact that they now have one legitimated person who “represents” the opposition and whose criticisms of Chavez and the revolution they can quote ad nauseum.

The Guardian wrote on Monday, “Analysts said the high turnout in the primaries showed the opposition base was mobilised and ready to take on Chávez”, of course, as is their custom, not stating which analysts, exactly, they are referring to.  And,AP delighted in listing all of Capriles’ criticism of Chavez, adding their own uninformed opinion that Chavez will use a “bonanza of public spending” in his electoral campaign- a lie: the PSUV electoral campaigns are self funded through members, and writing that Capriles “complained that government –run television coverage is tilted against him” without mentioning that Capriles’ family owns the Capriles media chain, which includes the national paper Ultimas Noticias, El Mundo, magazines, a national sports paper, stocks in Globovision, two radios, two online medias, and Venezuela’s biggest cinema company, among others.  

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