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Pre-Election Statement on Venezuela Elections, May 24, 2000

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.....The Carter Center continues to closely monitor the preparations for the Venezuelan mega-elections scheduled for May 28. As international observers we cannot guarantee the integrity of the elections. However, we can report our observations to the Venezuelan people and call attention to problems we have observed.

We believe that the problems we have observed so far are technical. We remind the parties and Venezuelan voters of the need to distinguish between intentional fraud and random technical problems. We call on all political sectors not to turn technical issues into political problems.

The candidates continue to campaign with the expectation that elections will take place on May 28. The CNE and election workers are striving very hard to complete preparations for the election. Because the changing daily dynamics are causing confusion and uncertainty among Venezuelans, we urge the CNE to make frequent reports to the parties and the public. We commend the Venezuelan people for remaining calm, and we ask the parties and the authorities to refrain from making accusations about the causes for any delays in the preparations for these elections.

We have found no single cause, but many causes, for the complications that have arisen in the preparations for the elections. These include a new CNE operating with an extremely tight four-month deadline to hold the elections and highly complex elections involving more than 33,000 candidates for 6,000 positions appearing on 1,200 distinct types of ballots.

In addition, the databases for the candidates prepared by the CNE continued to change as late as last Sunday, May 21. These databases form the basis for coding the electronic PCMCIA cards ("flashcards"), which give instructions to each vote-count machine on how to count the ballots. This delayed the preparation of the flashcards and required that many ballots be reprinted several times.

We have heard reports of intimidation and harassment of election workers. This is unacceptable in a democratic process. We call on Venezuelan authorities to ensure that all participants in the elections can carry out their duties safely and freely.

Finally, we are concerned that Venezuelan voters do not have full information about the elections, either how to vote or the names of the candidates from which they are to select. We urge the CNE to make a concerted effort to educate voters on these two points.

CONTACT: Deanna Congileo, Carter Center Office, Hotel Gran Meliá PH: 58 2 761 3122 FX: 58 2 761 2211

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