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THE old man had obviously spotted that I was from the international observer mission. My khaki jacket with its distinctive insignia of the Venezuelan electoral authorities was a dead giveaway.
“The election is rigged,” he told me in English.
“So, er, how is it done?” I asked, whipping out my biro to take notes.
“It’s too complicated to explain,” he replied, scuttling away before I could press him further.
In the three Venezuelan elections I have observed since 2017, that was the closest I ever came to discovering the smoking gun that would convict President Nicolas Maduro, or his predecessor Hugo Chavez, on the charge of electoral fraud.
It was not for want of searching.
I have questioned opposition witnesses at polling stations. I have asked representatives of US government-funded civil society groups. I have even locked horns with the campaign manager for the opposition presidential candidate, Henri Falcon.
But just like the old man who was blindsided by my simple question, not one of them was able to provide any evidence of fraud nor explain, even in theory, how an election process Jimmy Carter described as “the best in the world” could be rigged.
It proved no easier getting answers back in Britain. In 2019, when the then shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry was calling for fresh presidential elections, I asked her what was wrong with the one I had recently observed.
She was stumped and admitted she had no idea that 200 international observers from over 50 countries around the world, including the former prime minister of Spain, Jose Zapatero, had declared in their final report that the election was free and fair.
The only irregularities I have witnessed during my three observational missions was a stand for a political party that was 15 metres closer to a polling station than regulations permit, and poor disabled access at another, both of which I put in my report.
At last week’s regional elections which were won by the governing socialist party, an “independent observer” told me that she had witnessed a dispute about a polling room that had stayed open for an extra hour. The argument hinged on whether or not there was a queue of voters waiting in line.
At worst, these examples amount to a few minor breaches of regulation at a local level.
Not by any stretch of the imagination are they evidence of the sort of systematic electoral fraud that the US, the EU and Britain claim as justification for sanctions and regime change.
At today’s Adelante! conference, I will be describing Venezuela’s fully automated touch-screen voting system, which uses thumbprint recognition technology and prints off a receipt which is counted in front of opposition witnesses.
I will explain how the triple-lock of the computer printout, the paper receipt, and the result posted on the website of the electoral commission, makes fraud impossible and guarantees the integrity of the result.
The audience will be free to ask me anything they like within my competence as an election observer. No answer will be too complicated to explain!
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