Results from Sunday’s election in Venezuela
show, not surprisingly, a clean sweep for president Hugo Chavez.
Chavez’s party, the Fifth Republic Movement, is said to have won 114 of
the 167 seats in parliament, with his allies winning the remainder.

Turnout, however, was only around 25 per cent, after all the main
opposition parties boycotted the election (although some of their
candidates were still on the ballot papers). The New York Times
reports that “Venezuela’s opposition has, for all practical purposes,
ceased to exist in an organized form, paving the way for an easy
victory by Mr. Chávez for another six-year term in the election for
president late next year.”

The touchstone for the boycott was the use of voting machines that the
opposition claimed could not guarantee a fair vote. An earlier test of
the digital fingerprint scanners found that they failed to protect the
secrecy of voters; the electoral authority agreed last week not to use
the scanners, but the opposition went ahead with its boycott anyway.

Background to the election is the increasing hostility between Chavez
and the US government, which gave tacit support to an unsuccessful coup
against him in 2002. The opposition accused Chavez of rigging a recall
vote that he won last year, although international observers certified
it as fair; the observers are yet to pronounce on Sunday’s election.

Chavez’s authoritarianism, now to be backed by a compliant legislature,
is a genuine concern. But there is something deeply ironic about the
American government accusing other countries of having suspect voting
machines. Voting procedures in the US are a national scandal, with many
states using voting machines that fail to provide any paper
verification and are therefore open to partisan abuse.

A bill currently before Congress, HR 550,
would address many of these defects, but it is languishing for lack of
Republican support. People who live in glass houses need to be careful
about throwing stones.