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VENEZUELA
Between the referendum and elections
Inter Press Service
4/8/2004
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After new court decision, opposition rushes to present candidates for regional elections.

A conflict of powers was sparked by the March 23 ruling by the constitutional courtroom of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), annulling a decision of the same court’s electoral courtroom that had declared valid more than 800,000 signatures for a referendum to recall President Hugo Chávez.

The opposition had appealed to the electoral courtroom the Feb. 25 decision of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to "observe" 876,017 signatures of the 3,445,000 presented by the opposition, arguing that the handwriting was similar. The electoral courtroom — considered to be biased towards the opposition — on March 15 declared valid the signatures after which the CNE presented an appeal to the constitutional courtroom — seen to be supportive of the government — which ruled in its favor.

According to CNE president Francisco Carrasquero, the request for the appeal sought to demonstrate the preeminence of decisions of the constitutional courtroom over the electoral courtroom, as established in the constitution. After the last verdict, the process of reconfirming the signatures will take place on April 24 and 25.

Chávez hailed the decision saying "in this battle between lies and the truth, between good and bad, between what is false and what is certain, between the past and the future…the constitutional courtroom of the TSJ simply put things in their place, in the constitutional order, which had been violated."

Some analysts said that ruling of the constitutional courtroom will delay the calling of the referendum. The opposition demands that it be held before Aug. 19 — when Chávez reaches the halfway point of his term — because if the referendum shows a negative result for Chávez, a new election will be called. But if it is carried out after that date, a vice president designated by Chávez will serve out his term until 2007.

Meanwhile, sectors of the opposition have decided to participate in all political arenas possible to prevent losing ground already gained. On March 26, the deadline expired for registering candidates for Aug. 1 regional and municipal elections that will elect 23 state governors and 355 of the country’s mayoralties.

Of the current state governors, 15 are from the ruling party and eight are from the opposition. Six of the latter govern the richest and most populated states, like oil-producing Zulia (west), Anzoategui and Monagas (east), southwestern Bolivar state — the site of basic industries — and central states of Carabobo and Miranda — sites of numerous manufacturing industries.

Nevertheless, the opposition is not united. Some of the 27 parties that make up the Democratic Coordinator (CD) called for abstention if the outlook on the referendum is not clear.

Luis Vicente León, president of the pollster Datanalisis, warned that "if the opposition does not agree on their regional candidates, it will definitely lose the Aug. 1 elections."


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