Ecuadorean electoral authorities have invalidated roughly half of the signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on oil-drilling in the Yasuni Amazon Reserve, a move that activists say amounts to blatant fraud.
While the official conclusion of the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) analysis of the petition will be announced later today, El Universo reports that CNE President Domingo Paredes told journalists the news yesterday. According to Paredes, only 359,761 of the 756,000 signatures presented by the “Yasunidos” activist coalition were accepted, with the rest allegedly bearing irregularities. The CNE official also said some individuals associated with the petition had signed various times, demonstrating what he called “an apparent attempt to delude the CNE and the public to the detriment of the democratic system.”
In response, Yasunido spokesman Patricio Chavez has alleged that the review lacked transparency, and called on the CNE to publish evidence of the allegedly widespread irregularities. “This is without precedent. This is fraud, a clear fraud…We have a copy of everything we turned over and before turning it over we did a verification to prevent any problems,” Chavez told the AP. Diario Hoy reports that the group is organizing a demonstration in front of the CNE headquarters in Quito to protest the rejection of the petition.
Whether the electoral authorities’ claims are legitimate or not, the incident is bound to fuel allegations that the government is attempting to stifle independent civil society. Last year the ruling Alianza Pais party passed a controversial media law that press freedom advocates warned would pave the way for arbitrary sanctions and censorship of the media. In December, Ecuadorean officials forced a separate environmental NGO to close its doors after holding it responsible for acts of violence at a protest.
It’s worth noting, also, that the results of a recent poll published in state newspaper El Telegrafo (but only highlighted in private media) showed that 72 percent of Ecuadoreans are in favor of a referendum on oil drilling in Yasuni.
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