Uncertainty looms for victor in Venezuela presidential election
The National Electoral Council has sought to discard fears of fraud in this oil-rich country, reassuring Venezuelans that the electronic voting machines will keep their votes secret. The US-based Carter Center, a past election observer, agrees.
In a show of good faith, Chavez and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who has given the president the toughest election challenge of his 14-year presidency, have signed a document vowing to recognize the election result.
But Chavez, who was briefly ousted in a 47-hour coup in 2002, claims that the “far right” plans not to recognize his victory if he wins a new six-year term. He has never shown evidence to back up his allegation.
While Capriles never accused Chavez of plotting to commit fraud, he says the leftist leader misused public funds for his campaign while sowing fear by forcing government workers to attend his rallies.
In 2004, a list with the names of millions of people who signed a petition for a recall referendum against Chavez was made public. A number of government workers on the list said they lost their jobs after its release.
“It was an error committed by some political groups for political reasons. Today nobody can doubt the vote is secret,” said Tibisay Lucena, head of the National Electoral Council, which is stacked with Chavez loyalists.
She urged people to stop writing alarmist messages on social media, stressing in a Venevision network interview that “the eyes of the world are on Venezuela.” Ignacio Avalos, director of the Venezuelan Election Observatory, an independent non-governmental organization, said a Chavez defeat would likely trigger protests but that they would be brief.
“The government and the opposition both agree that the electoral system is good in general,” Avalos said. “Opposition experts concluded that you cannot cheat the system.” “My concern is not what happens Sunday. It’s what happens Monday,” he said, noting that the speeches that Chavez and Capriles give after the election will be key to how the people react.
The armed forces, he added, would not act as an arbiter in the election, though they would intervene if any protests got out of control. Some 139,000 troops have been deployed to provide security on election day.
“How people react will depend on the attitude of the loser,” said Farith Fraija, a political scientist and economist close to the government.
Venezuela has become a highly polarized country under Chavez, who has developed a devoted following among the poor. But Capriles has given the opposition new hope after holding his own massive rallies across the nation.
Some Capriles supporters fear that the president would have a hard time bowing out gracefully.
“Everybody knows that the elections are not transparent,” said Sandra Contreras, a 24-year-old psychology student at the Central University of Venezuela. “We are living in a dictatorship disguised as a democracy.” “If Capriles wins, Chavez will not accept defeat,” she said. “People may take to the streets to protest, civil war could happen, or by miracle the National Guard intervenes to make him recognize the vote.” Fernando Amador, a 32-year-old blue-collar worker and Capriles supporter, is confident the electoral system is fraud-proof but says that Chavez supporters would take to the streets if the president refuses to concede defeat.
“The people would go out, there would be violence and looting,” he said during a lively sidewalk discussion with Chavez supporters in front of the Housing Ministry, which is covered by a giant image of Chavez.
But Oscar Nunez, a ministry driver and “Chavista,” said it would be demonstrations of joy that would take place on Sunday as he could not see how Chavez could lose.
“We don’t want violence,” he said. “We are all Venezuelans.”
n Agence France Presse
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