Election council to audit vote in Venezuela

Election council to audit vote in Venezuela
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles gestures during a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, late Thursday, April 18, 2013.
AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s electoral council announced Thursday night that it would audit the 46 percent of the vote not scrutinized on election night in a concession to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who said he believed the stolen votes that cost him the presidency are among the unaudited.

“We are where we want to be,” Capriles, looking satisfied but wary, told a news conference after the announcement. “I think I will have the universe of voters needed to get where I want to be.”

Capriles had demanded a full vote-by-vote recount but said he could live with the National Electoral Council’s ruling, an apparent turnaround for President-elect Nicolas Maduro, whose government had looked all week to be digging in its heels.

Maduro, the late President Hugo Chavez’s anointed successor, is being inaugurated on Friday and was in Lima, Peru, on Thursday night for an emergency meeting of South American leaders to discuss his country’s electoral crisis.”We know where the problems are,” said Capriles, referring to the votes cast in the 12,000 voting machines that council President Tibisay Lucena said would be audited beginning next week and would take a month to complete.

The 40-year-old state governor called on his supporters to back down from confrontation and play music, preferably salsa, instead of banging on pots, as they have been nightly all week since the council ratified Maduro’s victory in order to protest what they considered a stolen ballot.

Venezuela’s opposition had been battered for years by Chavez and many say political repression has only increased under Maduro.

Capriles said he will insist that every single vote receipt be counted and compared to voter registries as well as to voting machine tally sheets. In announcing the audit, Lucena did not say whether authorities would do that.

But a council spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not permitted to be named, said the audit would be done as Capriles specified.

Venezuela’s electronic voting system emits receipts for every ballot that are boxed up with the tally machines.

Maduro was declared the winner of Sunday’s election by a slim 260,000-vote margin out of 14.9 million ballots cast.

He had squandered a double-digit lead in the polls as Venezuelans upset by a troubled economy, rampant crime, food shortages and worsening power outages turned away from a candidate they considered a poor imitation of the charismatic leader for whom he long served as foreign minister.

Capriles maintains the vote was stolen from him through intimidation and other abuses and presented a long list of abuses.

No international election monitors were scrutinizing the vote

Lucena’s announcement seemed a clear turnaround from a government that has a stranglehold on all state institutions and had waged a crackdown on protest all week and followed the Supreme Court chief’s announcement on Wednesday that the full recount Capriles demanded was not legal.

Maduro was sworn in as acting president after Chavez died last month after a long fight with cancer.

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