by Alejandro Kirk
(IPS) CARACAS -- The stamp of approval that Venezuela's recall referendum won Monday from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center is expected to pave the way for a new stage of President Hugo Chavez's wide-ranging social program.
In his first speech early Monday, the president announced that Venezuela would move forward with determination towards overcoming the economic and social injustices inherited from neo-liberal free-market policies of the past, and towards national reconciliation.
The partial results of Sunday's referendum announced by election authorities showed that nearly 59 percent of voters were opposed to removing Chavez from office, giving the president renewed legitimacy.
His supporters will now have revitalized strength in parliament to push through reforms to overhaul the court system, establish a national police force, instead of the current fragmented municipal and state police forces, and pass a law holding the privately owned media to standards of social responsibility.
Chavez also said he proposed to give permanent institutional form to his government's successful programs in the areas of education, health, and economic and social development, which were initially put into effect as stop-gap measures aimed at filling the vacuum left by previous ineffective and corrupt Venezuelan governments.
Chavez's social measures in this oil-rich country where 70 percent of the population is poor have included an adult literacy drive, job training and microcredit programs for the poor, and campaigns that have brought health care, including dental coverage, to slum neighborhoods.
OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the heads of the international election observer teams, urged the opposition to accept the preliminary results announced by the National Electoral Council (CNE), according to which just over 41 percent of voters chose the "Yes" option in favor of removing Chavez.
Gaviria and Carter said, "Our findings coincided with the partial returns announced today" by the CNE.
The joint statement issued by Gaviria and Carter in a press conference surprised the opposition, who had previously seen them as allies -- the U.S. had generously funded Chavez's foes -- and triggered furious reactions and insults from a spontaneous demonstration outside the hotel where the two election observer missions are staying.
In a major strategy shift, even prior to the observers' announcement, the main opposition party, Democratic Action (AD), said it would merely engage in political and legal action to combat what its leaders described as a "gigantic fraud."
In an unusual reaction, AD leader Henry Ramos said that instead of protesting the "fraud", the opposition would dedicate Monday to gathering the documents to take legal action this week.
"Give us a little time to think," Ramos told bewildered opposition journalists.
AD thus marked a difference from other opposition groups and leaders, who have repeatedly called for a coup d'etat and the use of violence to put an end to the Chavez administration, such as one of the historic AD figures, Carlos Andres Perez, who served as president of Venezuela from 1974 to 1979, and from 1989 until he was removed from office in 1993 for corruption.
Chavez, meanwhile, said his victory in this "mid-term exam" halfway through his six-year term set a "world record" in terms of "participatory democracy."
"This government guarantees stability for Venezuela like no other government could guarantee," said Chavez.
He added that Venezuela also guarantees stability of the global oil market for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This country's is the fifth-largest producer of oil in the world.
In a message to the United States, he said, "I hope this victory, this lesson in democracy, citizenship, civic spirit and love of peace allows the government of the most powerful nation on earth to rethink things, and to respect the Venezuelan people from this day on."
A U.S. State Department spokesman reiterated complete confidence in the observers mission headed by Carter, whose verdict, he said, would form the basis for the U.S. government's position towards the referendum.
Carter and Gaviria said all of Venezuela should accept the CNE's results, unless tangible evidence of fraud is presented. They underlined, however, that they had seen no elements of fraud.
Carter said the tally by the opposition electoral group Sumate coincided with the returns announced by the election authorities and the findings of the international election monitors.
He also said he had expressed his position in private to the leaders of the Democratic Coordinator opposition alliance as well as the owners of the private national media.
In a news briefing, Sumate confirmed that its results tallied with the partial official returns which clearly pointed to a Chavez victory. But it expressed doubts about the voting procedure itself, based on an electronic thumbprint identification and touch screen system operated by a U.S.-based company.
Sumate spokespersons urged the international observers to take charge of the paper receipts, to make sure they reflected the electronic results -- a demand that has little chance of prospering.
But Gaviria ruled out any possibility of fraud in the electronic system, saying it was designed in such a way as to make the manipulation of the final outcome impossible.
He also noted that the data transmission was in the hands of by the private telecoms company CANTV, whose executives openly support the opposition.
Chavez declared Monday a holiday after a nearly 24-hour election process in which people stood in line outside polling stations for up to 15 hours Sunday.
After the calm of Monday morning, the streets of Caracas gradually began to fill up with people, most of them celebrating Chavez's victory, and others complaining bitterly about Carter and Gaviria.
August 17, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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