December 2, 2005

Venezuela’s opposition appeal to observers on vote

By Andrei Khalip

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition
leaders who withdrew from Sunday's legislative election urged
European Union observers on Friday to press President Hugo
Chavez to loosen what critics say is his unfair control over
the electoral system.

Chavez, whom critics accuse of building an authoritarian
state modeled on communist Cuba, has labeled the opposition
boycott a U.S.-backed "electoral coup" attempt against his
government and says the vote will be fair.

Opposition leader Cesar Perez said his Copei party and the
Proyecto Venezuela political group met European Union observers
on Friday to ask for support in changing the electoral system
they say is under Chavez's control.

"Nowhere in the world can one consider a normal democracy a
situation where the opposition withdraws completely from the
elections," Perez told Reuters. "The EU should collaborate in
the task of finding a balanced electoral system."

Foreign observers say they will not comment until after the
elections. The Organization of American States is also
monitoring the vote for 167 parliamentary seats.

Analysts say the boycott will hand Chavez's supporters a
large majority in the National Assembly and critics fear Chavez
will push to extend his control over the courts and other
institutions and remove re-election limits on the presidency.

Since his first election in 1998, Chavez has battled
opposition to his self-styled socialist revolution. He survived
a coup in 2002 and an oil strike months later. The former
soldier is Venezuela's most popular leader praised by
supporters for spending heavily on projects for the poor.

After he won a recall referendum last year, opposition
leaders said the National Electoral Council had manipulated
electronic voting machines and tampered with the electoral
register. Observers said they found no fraud.

But Julio Borges, national coordinator of Justice First
party said that "there has been a slow-motion decomposition of
electoral confidence" in Venezuela and appealed to the OAS and
EU to recognize the faults.

"I hope their report reflects the reality with justice,
which requires a really sharp picture, and not just that a vote
took place and one group won and everyone is happy," he said.

Chavez, who often clashes with Washington over his close
ties to Cuba, on Thursday accused U.S. President George W. Bush
of engineering the opposition withdrawal and repeated his
charges U.S. officials were plotting to overthrow him.

The U.S. government dismisses his remarks as populist
rhetoric. They say Chavez uses anti-U.S. remarks to whip up
nationalist sentiment and mobilize his powerbase among the poor