Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Observers say Venezuela vote was fair

Observers say Venezuela vote was fair
Observers say Venezuela vote was fair


CARACAS, Venezuela -- European observers said Tuesday that Venezuela's congressional elections were fair and transparent despite opposition claims of irregularities and a low voter turnout.

President Hugo Chavez's party and allies claimed to have swept Sunday's balloting after five opposition parties pulled out, saying they did not trust the electoral system. Partial, regional results issued so far showed candidates aligned with Chavez taking a commanding lead.

While official results were not yet in, ruling party lawmakers have said candidates of Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement party won 114 seats and that allied parties won all the rest in the 167-member chamber.

Jose Silva, head of the European Union team, said the vote was clean and praised the elections council.

"For us, there was transparency in the electoral process," said Silva, who oversaw about 160 observers.

He said many Venezuelans did not trust the nation's elections system, leading them to abstain from voting.

Sunday's voter turnout of about 25 percent was lower than in recent Venezuelan congressional elections in 1998 and 2000, when about 50 percent to 60 percent turned out.

Chavez, who accused the opposition of plotting the boycott with the help of the United States as part of a plot to "destabilize" the country, said Tuesday that the low turnout "must be looked at, analyzed and considered." Washington and the opposition have denied the accusations.

"Nobody can claim the abstention as a victory," Chavez told supporters in Caracas. "The group of parties from the old order pulled out the elections without any good reason."

The boycotting parties expressed concerns about the voter registry and touch-screen voting machines. Election officials denied any problems, saying they made many concessions for the opposition.

The Organization of American States, which had 60 observers monitoring the vote, expressed concern about growing political divisions in Venezuela and urged election officials "to establish necessary conditions for the participation of all sectors" of Venezuelan society.

Venezuela is split between those who accuse Chavez of becoming increasingly authoritarian and supporters who say the former paratrooper commander has given new opportunities to the country's poor majority.

Silva told reporters the elections represented a "lost opportunity" for resolving differences that have caused "a fracture in Venezuelan society."

Court authorities on Tuesday delayed the start of a trial for leaders of a Venezuelan vote-monitoring group accused of conspiring against Chavez's republican system by receiving U.S. funding.

The group, Sumate, has alleged that Chavez's administration is guilty of electoral irregularities.

Its lawyer, Juan Martin Echeverria, said the trial was deferred until Jan. 18 while a higher court examines defense motions challenging the judge's impartiality and alleging legal violations.

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