LATIN AMERICA

Venezuelan Supreme Court kills Capriles’ challenge to April’s election results

Capriles announces he will take fight to international forums after his legal options run out Justices rule that complainants did not explain what type of voting irregularities took place

Venezuelan Supreme Court Chief Justice Gladys Gutiérrez.
Venezuelan Supreme Court Chief Justice Gladys Gutiérrez.EFE

The Venezuelan Supreme Court late Wednesday dismissed 10 challenges to the April 14 presidential elections by the opposition, which claimed that a host of irregularities were committed at the ballot boxes during a race that gave Nicolás Maduro a narrow victory over his opponent Henrique Capriles.

Handed down by the top court’s constitutional chamber four months after the vote count, the ruling closes the legal door for Capriles and his opposition partners who were seeking to impugn the snap elections held following the March 5 death of President Hugo Chávez.

“They did not adequately explain what the irregularities were,” said the chamber’s Chief Justice Gladys Gutiérrez in summarizing the ruling, while adding that the challenges were inadmissible.

The opposition had expected such a decision. During a video conference carried on the internet Tuesday, Capriles said that he would seek justice at international forums because the Supreme Court was dragging its feet in its ruling on the opposition’s challenges.

Without announcing a date, Capriles said he would file a complaint with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – a forum whose decisions Chávez ignored in the past. The late president argued that the court’s rulings were non-binding and interfered with a country’s internal affairs, even though the Venezuelan Constitution establishes that the government must abide by the international rule of law.

In 2011, Leopoldo López, another opposition leader, who wanted to run against Chávez in last year’s election, filed a complaint with the Costa Rica-based IACHR after the Venezuelan courts had barred him from holding public office. While the court ruled in favor of López, the Chávez government refused to recognize the decision. The Chávez government also ignored another IACHR ruling in 2008 which stated that three Venezuelan judges who were dismissed from the First Court of Administrative Disputes must be reinstated.

Last year, Chávez announced that Venezuela would withdraw from the Inter-American Human Rights System because he said it was unfair. Beginning on September 10, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which receives complaints about Venezuela as a first-instance body, will no longer be able to turn over cases to the IACHR.

It was the chronicle of an inadmissibility foretold"

Lawyers for Capriles, who is governor of Miranda state, demanded new elections after they claimed to have discovered alleged irregularities in 55.4 percent of the 15 million ballots cast in April. Meanwhile, the umbrella opposition coalition group, Democratic Unity Committee (MUD), has challenged 2.32 million votes and has asked that ballots be recast in a partial election.

Experts believe that problems exist in the voter registry books – which keep the actual tallies on the number of ballots cast inside the ballot boxes – and not the automatic voting machines. The opposition wants to compare the numbers in the books with the actual ballots cast. Capriles has questioned how Maduro won more votes than Chávez at 1,000 polling stations when the government’s candidate garnered fewer votes overall than his mentor had managed in his final victory in 2012.

The opposition’s challenge before the Supreme Court was said to be doomed from the start because of the political makeup of the bench. Most of the 32 justices are sympathizers of Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution and have sided with the government in different rulings since 2007.

"It was the chronicle of an inadmissibility foretold," said campaign manager Ramón José Medina.

The opposition has also accused authorities of using judicial terror to go after its leaders. After announcing its ruling, the Supreme Court also imposed a 10,700-bolivar fine (some $1,700) on Capriles for using “disrespectful” terms in his challenge to the April 14 elections. Authorities also raided the home of Óscar López, Capriles’ chief of staff, in a corruption case reportedly filed against him but one that has not been explained.

“What was truly inadmissible was the lack of justice,” said Capriles in his Twitter account after Wednesday’s ruling was announced. “They have issued a fine against us for telling and defending the truth – that’s an honor they gave us.”

Opposition forces said they will now concentrate on the upcoming December 8 municipal elections and the possibility of organizing a constituent assembly to redraft a new Constitution, as proposed by Capriles some days ago. With that plan, Capriles and his supporters hope to spark enthusiasm among voters.

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