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Venezuelans wrangle ahead of inauguration

Tensions are high, but the country seems to have returned from the brink of the worst violence.
Last modified: 18 Apr 2013 23:18
Venezuelan security forces are preparing for Friday's presidential inauguration [AFP]

As opposition supporters banged pots and pans, and government backers launched fireworks over Caracas, competing political camps in Venezuela agreed to call for another audit of votes following Sunday's close presidential election.

It remains unclear, however, what sort of additional recount – if any – will take place and the campaigns, electoral authorities and judges are walking a delicate line.

"There will be new technical audits, we agree 100 per cent with that," Jorge Rodriguez, chairman of acting president Nicholas Maduro's campaign said on Wednesday without providing specifics. The opposition, led by Henrique Capriles, has been calling for a full recount as they allege the election was marred by fraud.

The final decision on new audits rests with the National Electoral Council (CNE), Venezuela's voting authority, rather than representatives of political campaigns.

Tensions between supporters of the government and opposition are high, but the country seems to have returned from the brink of all-out violence.

Post-election unrest left at least seven people dead and dozens injured allegedly due to attacks by opposition supporters. More than a hundred people are thought to have been arrested following clashes.

Logistical issues

Maduro from the ruling Socialist Party is set to be sworn in on Friday, after beating Capriles by less than 300,000 votes during Sunday's presidential vote.

Elections here are computerised, in a system that had been praised by monitors including the Carter Centre, and ballot printouts act as a receipt for one's vote, rather than the final record of one’s choice.

Venezuela's Supreme Court rejected calls for a full recount on Wednesday.

"(Electoral) systems are not audited with paper ballots, because we have audits, not manual counts," said Luisa Estela Morales, President of the Supreme Court, explaining that recounting paper ballots doesn't make sense as the system is electronic.

Those who thought a full manual recount possible "were fooling themselves," Morales said.

Earlier this week, the CNE did an electronic audit of 54 percent of votes. That didn't satisfy the opposition.

The latest statements by the government's campaign chief echo a call made by Maduro himself on Sunday. He urged authorities to do a complete audit "so there won't be any doubt in the result".

Members of Capriles' campaign met with CNE boss Tibisay Lucena on Wednesday to submit a report on alleged wrongdoings during Sunday's vote.

'Enough with the intervention'

Most countries including Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Colombia and Brazil have recognised Maduro as the country's president. The US has not.

"There ought to be a recount," US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. "If there are huge irregularities, then we have serious questions about the viability of that government."

Maduro and his supporters believe the US is trying to instigate a coup and they hit back after Kerry's comments.

"Take your eyes off Venezuela," Maduro said, addressing Kerry. "Enough with the intervention."

Unconfirmed allegations from the competing camps have been swirling on social networking sites, adding to the atmosphere of tension.

While politicians, legal experts and various branches of Venezuela's bureaucracy wrangle over recount proposals and audits, most observers agree that Maduro's inauguration will go ahead as planned on Friday.

Brazil's president Dilma Rouseff, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia have confirmed they will attend the ceremony while the US is unlikely to send a delegation.