Anti-Chavez groups won't support audit

Opposition says review of Venezuelan vote would not be effective

August 19, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

CARACAS, Venezuela - After demanding an audit of voting results upon failing to oust President Hugo Chavez in a recall referendum, representatives of Venezuela's opposition movement said yesterday that they would refuse to participate in or recognize the review, asserting that the audit would fail to detect the deception that they insist took place.

The opposition has not offered solid evidence of wrongdoing to the Organization of American States or to the Carter Center - monitors of the 18-hour recall election Sunday, in which Venezuelans voted by a large margin to keep Chavez as their leader. Both organizations said their "quick count" sampling of voting results Sunday showed that Chavez had easily won.

But on Tuesday, Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president and leader of the Carter Center, based in Atlanta, said both monitors would oversee an audit of 150 voting tables - each with two or three voting machines - to dispel accusations of tampering.

On Wednesday, though, leaders of the anti-Chavez movement in Venezuela announced that the audit should not proceed because they had evidence that hundreds of machines had been manipulated to limit "yes" votes on the recall.

"We have given the order not to participate," Enrique Mendoza, an opposition leader, told reporters. "The results of this audit cannot be considered valid to satisfy the opposition's demands."

An official with the Organization of American States, however, said the monitor group had rejected the opposition's demand that voting machines be reviewed and tested. Instead, the audit would go ahead today as planned, with the results ready in two or three days. Paper receipts from across the nation would be compared in Caracas with the electronic results from the voting machines, which were operated by Smartmatic, a company in Boca Raton, Fla.

Officials of the Carter Center and the Organization of American States said the audit is an infallible way to detecting irregularities. They also said the voting machines had worked flawlessly Sunday and that there was no evidence of tampering.

The opposition took part in a smoothly conducted pre-election audit of a sampling of voter machines, after tamper-proof software was installed that enabled the machines to record votes and transmit results to a central vote-counting bank. "The system is designed to allow maximum transparency and security, and we welcome additional audits to demonstrate accuracy," Mitch Stoller, a spokesman for Smartmatic, said.

The opposition's insistence that the government had cheated, despite the assurances of monitoring officials, prompted a harsh rebuke from Venezuelan authorities.

"They know that with the audit they will still look ridiculous before this country," said Mari Pili Hernandez, a government spokeswoman. "Why? Because they have no evidence."

The opposition's claims are based largely on exit polls conducted by members of Sumate, an antigovernment group that received $53,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. government organization whose stated mission is to promote democracy.

Carter has dismissed exit polls as inaccurate.

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