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Maria Corina Machado

Venezuelan NGO Súmate (Join Up) launched a campaign, yesterday, to cleanse what they describe as a flawed voter list, leading up to municipal council elections on August 7th. Also, the group says that electronic voting will not guarantee a secret ballot. Súmate Director Maria Corina Machado held a press conference calling on citizens to “stand up for democracy.”

“On the contrary,” says MVR deputy Dario Vivas, “the electronic notebooks [electronic identification of voters] guarantee the meticulousness and the transparency of the process.” Vivas sees Sumate’s attacks against the National Electoral Council (CNE) as an attempt to manipulate public opinion in the face of the opposition’s imminent defeat in the upcoming elections.

“All polls predict a victory for the [pro-Chávez] forces for change,” says Vivas, and that’s why they are trying to sully the voting process. “They are trying to undermine the importance and legitimacy of the electoral process,” he added.

Opposition political parties have echoed Súmate’s criticisms of the voting machines to be used in the August elections. Arguing that with the new automatic identification of voters by fingerprint, the identification of voters could somehow be correlated with the actual votes.

According to Súmate, political parties have a right to voter information, including physical addresses, to assure transparency. With their campaign, involving petitions of concerned voters, they intend to prove the CNE’s violation of Venezuela’s Suffrage and Political Participation Law. The CNE has not yet commented on Súmate’s declaration. Súmate also alleges that the current automatic voting mechanism is unsafe and could be manipulated to violate the secrecy of the ballot. The CNE has yet to “demonstrate that the software randomizes the vote sequences it stores and automatically erases these sequences,” say Súmate technicians.

The CNE has given opposition parties two weeks to make their case, otherwise the current system will be used. Director of the governing 5th Republic Movement (MVR) Willian Lara says Súmate doesn’t have the moral authority to judge Venezuelan electoral regulations. Machado’s signature appears on an attendance sheet from the swearing-in ceremony of dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona in a short-lived coup against Chávez in April, 2002.

Lara further accused Machado of being a mere tool of US imperial interests in Venezuela. Súmate has received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-a quasi-governmental US foundation overseen by congress and the State Department-and the US Agency for International Development. Furthermore, Machado had a private audience with US President George W. Bush last month.