Chavez victory is confirmed

An audit carried out by the OAS and Carter Centre, which was completed Saturday, confirmed Venezuelan President Hugo Chбvez's victory in the Aug. 15 recall referendum. However, the opposition coalition's refusal to recognise Chбvez's triumph makes reconciliation in this highly polarised South American country look like an increasingly remote possibility, said Cйsar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS (Organisation of American States), and Jennifer McCoy, spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Carter Centre. ”The results we have obtained with this audit are totally compatible with the results of the electoral council,” Gaviria said in a joint press conference offered by the international election observers. The audit consisted of a vote-by-vote recount of the paper receipts that reflected the votes cast in 150 randomly chosen polling stations from around the country, which had a total of 400 touch-screen machines. The machines produced a paper receipt of each vote, which voters then deposited into a ballot box. In the audit, local monitors, accompanied by international election observers, checked the results from the machines against the paper ballots to make sure there were no significant differences. Ninety percent of voters used the new electronic polling system last Sunday. The results of the audit showed that Chбvez took 58.93 percent of the vote, compared to 41.07 percent of voters who wanted to remove him, said Gaviria. The partial returns issued last Monday by the electoral council, based on 94 percent of the electronic votes cast, showed that 58.25 percent voted in favour of Chбvez completing his term until January 2007, and 41.74 percent voted for his removal. When the ballots from the most remote regions, where 900,000 Venezuelans voted manually, were added to the total Wednesday, the electoral council reported that the proportion who voted in favour of Chбvez rose to 59.06 percent, against 40.94 percent for the opposition. Of the manual ballots, 70 percent were for Chбvez and 30 percent against. The audit and the random selection of ballot boxes were proposed by Nobel Peace Prize-winner and former U.S. president (1977-1983) Jimmy Carter, after Sъmate -- the technical committee of the Democratic Coordinator opposition alliance, which gathered the signatures to trigger a recall referendum -- alleged that fraud had been committed. But after the electoral council accepted the audit, the Democratic Coordinator announced that it would not take part, arguing that it should be the one to set the conditions, informs IPS. According to NYTimes, international observers carried out additional checks after the opposition rejected the results and said electronic voting machines had been manipulated to give Mr. Chavez a victory in the voting on Aug. 15. If he had lost, Mr. Chavez would have been removed from office. "The audit is completed,'' said the leader of the Organization of American States, Cisar Gaviria. "The results we have obtained with this check are totally compatible with results of the electoral council." The audit found only small discrepancies and no evidence that anyone had tampered with the electronic polling system, monitors said. The observers had hoped the referendum would end more than two years of political conflict between Mr. Chбvez, a former army officer, and the opposition, who say his reforms are driving the country, a major oil exporter, toward Cuban-style communism. An audit of ballots from 150 voting stations has confirmed that President Hugo Chavez won last week's recall referendum, reported the Organization of American States Saturday, Publishes CBC News. The president's opponents claim an audit would not be able to detect fraud in the August 15 referendum that saw Chavez capture 59 percent of the vote. Critics of the audit say hundreds of touch-screen voting machines were rigged to limit the number of yes votes in order to allow a win for Chavez. Venezuelan election officials, observers from the OAS and from the Atlanta-based Carter Center conducted the audit. OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria responded to the audit criticism saying, "It's evident that the opposition has huge doubts regarding the results. We cannot say categorically there was not fraud, we are saying we didn't find it." In a televised speech Friday Chavez appealed to his opponents, asking them to accept the audit results. Following last week's vote opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup said, "We firmly and categorically reject the result. We're going to collect the evidence to prove to Venezuela and the world the gigantic fraud which has been committed against the will of the people." The referendum was Venezuela's first-ever attempt to recall a president, and ended a two-year drive by opposition parties to oust Chavez. In 2002, Chavez was ousted in a two-day coup and returned to power by loyalists in the military

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