Watching developments in Venezuela …

The election on Sunday in Venezuela is promising to be controversial.

There is an article in the Washington Post this morning, noting that one of the international observing missions (from the Organization of American States) is facing criticism in Venezuela:

Therein lies one of the inherent institutional weaknesses of the OAS and its connection to electoral processes in the Americas. That the secretary-general has a vested interest in getting along with the candidates that get elected is only natural. But the fact that he can exercise such power over the electoral observation missions, to the point of being able to abruptly alter them by recalling a chief of mission, calls into question the independence of those missions from political maneuverings within the OAS.

Such criticism is especially true in Venezuela. The OAS’ current mission there is largely believed to reflect pressures from President Hugo Chavez to stay on the sidelines. In a trip to Caracas in October, where he negotiated the conditions for the OAS electoral mission, Insulza insisted that the OAS had no intention to allow its mission “to become a protagonist,” pledging instead to cooperate with Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. That is the same body the OAS acknowledged less than a year ago was highly distrusted by the Venezuelan opposition.

To ensure a low profile, the OAS made the mission late and weak. It arrived in Venezuela only last week, less than three weeks before the vote. In Nicaragua, where another controversial election was held this year, the OAS spent six months. Also, the head of mission in Venezuela, a former Uruguayan ambassador to the OAS, is considered compromised both by his closeness to Venezuelan diplomats and by his lower profile — heads of OAS missions to Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru were all former foreign ministers.

This comes on the heels of stories that have noted criticisms of the electronic voting system used in Venezuela, and the possibility that if the Chavez opposition loses, they might contest the election results based on complaints about the voting system (from Forbes):

The negative tone of the campaign has been reflected in more recent opposition claims that the electronic voting system will be manipulated, and that corruption of the software will ensure victory for Chavez. Technical teams from the European Union, the Organization of American States and the Carter Center have rejected this argument, which defines the National Election Council as a Chavista institution. Claims of potential fraud have raised concerns that the opposition candidate will pull out of the election or that radical opposition elements will channel frustration with a potential Chavez victory through recourse to mass post-election protests.

This is despite a number of safeguards that have been put in place in Venezuela (from the International Herald Tribune and the Associated Press):

Venezuelans will get paper receipts that verify their choices were properly recorded, and must deposit them into boxes before leaving the polls. After Sunday’s vote, election officials monitored by representatives of each candidate will count millions of the paper receipts for comparison to the electronic totals.

Last month, they performed random hardware and software checks of 1 percent of the machines. Officials also will keep them disconnected from the network during the actual voting as an additional safeguard against tampering.

Digital thumbprint devices aimed at preventing the casting of multiple ballots will be used by about 40 percent of the voters in the most populous states and along Venezuela’s borders, but in response to fears that thumbprints could be linked to voters’ choices, the National Electoral Council says it has tweaked the software so that no record is kept of the sequence in which thumbprints are recorded.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the weekend …