June 12, 2000
Volume 52, No. 35
Focus: Carter Center
Voters in two South American countries recently saw their hopes for democratic elections stymied when elections were delayed in Venezuela and boycotted by the lead presidential opponent in Peru.
The Carter Center and representatives of its Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas had been observing electoral processes in both countries for extended periods. After monitoring Venezuela's presidential elections in December 1998, the center made four assessment missions this year to prepare for the scheduled May 28 elections.
Initial observations found many areas of concern, including a questionable legal framework for the election, a high level of uncertainty and distrust on behalf of the voters, and calls for an external audit of the tabulation process.
At the invitation of Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE), an international team led by President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, and former Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo and his wife, Estrella Zeledon de Carazo, began arriving in the capital of Caracas on May 22.
"The Carter Center has had a continuous presence in Venezuela since August 1999 to closely follow the drafting and approval of the new constitution, and most recently, to assess conditions for the elections," said Jennifer McCoy, director of the center's Latin American and Caribbean program, which organized the election-monitoring mission. "We went to show the support of the international community for Venezuelans during a time of great political change."
Dubbed "mega-elections" because of their size and complexity, the Venezuela elections had more than 36,000 candidates competing for upwards of 6,000 positions. It became apparent that technical difficulties and lack of voter information, problems almost from the start, would not allow for reliable elections. Political parties, electoral technicians and civilians began voicing strong concerns regarding the elections' legitimacy. An appeal to Venuezuela's Supreme Court brought a ruling that the elections be delayed so that these concerns could be addressed.
"Postponement of the elections will allow citizens to be adequately informed about the candidates running for office and ensure that technical conditions be put in place to ensure the integrity of the elections," President Carter said at a press conference in Caracas on May 27. "We will continue to offer our support and suggestions in a spirit of international cooperation and respect with the hope that the electoral process will accurately reflect the choice of the Venezuelan people."
In Peru, four recent observation missions, sponsored jointly by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Carter Center, pointed to fundamental flaws in country's electoral process. These included unequal access to the media, media bias favoring the incumbent, smear campaigns against Peruvian election monitors and opposition candidates, the misuse of state resources for electoral advantage, and a climate of impunity.
These serious problems were compounded by an opaque tabulation process that, following the April 9 polls, was plagued by irregularities and inexplicable delays. All of these factors led a large segment of the Peruvian electorate to question the credibility of the polls and those administering them.
On May 5, a strongly worded statement was issued by the NDI and the Carter Center urging "immediate and comprehensive improvements" to Peru's elections process. These improvements were never made, and on May 25 the Carter Center and NDI announced they would not send an observer mission to the May 28 runoff.
"After seeing little improvement from our first mission in early December to our third mission in mid-March, NDI and The Carter Center concluded that the electoral process was irreparably flawed," McCoy said. "We again called for changes after the April 9 first round, but failing to see significant improvements, we concluded that these elections would not meet the minimum international standards for a democratic election."
The May 28 runoff transpired without an opposing candidate, since opposition leader Alejandro Toledo refused to participate because of the poor conditions. The final results showed President Alberto Fujimori winning 51.2 percent of the votes cast, with Toledo winning 17.7 percent since he was still on the ballot, and 29.9 percent of voters deliberately spoiling their ballots in a likely rejection of the Fujimori candidacy. Blank ballots accounted for the remainder of the votes.
--Nadara Wade is communications coordinator for the Carter Center.