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Venezuela has a transparent voting system but the election to replace late leader Hugo Chavez will be "deeply undemocratic" because the government candidate has an unfair advantage over the opposition, a member of the electoral body said.
Vicente Diaz, known as the dissenting voice on the five-member National Electoral Council (CNE), told AFP that it was impossible for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles to have as much media visibility as Chavez's chosen successor, acting President Nicolas Maduro.
"If we look at the national electoral eco-system, we stand before a deeply undemocratic election because the basic principle is that the candidates participate in equal conditions, and this is not the case," Diaz said.
Speaking on Tuesday, the day the campaign for the April 14 election formally kicked off, Diaz pulled out a local newspaper and showed a page with a Capriles campaign ad and another one for Maduro financed by the ruling PSUV socialist party.
The daily, however, contained eight more pages of Maduro ads paid for by the government.
"This shows the government's overwhelming advantage in the campaign, without a doubt. And the CNE is encouraging this situation. If Maduro wins, he will do it in the context of an unfair and uneven election," he said.
The five "rectors" of the CNE, whose president is Tibisay Lucena, are responsible for ensuring the good functioning of the campaign, the voting and the counting of votes.
Diaz is the only member of the council to have frequently denounced the alleged abuses committed by the government in elections. He lodged 16 complaints against Chavez in past campaigns, but they went nowhere.
"Ideally, the CNE would be the symbol of this diverse country," he said.
He said the current campaign -- coming almost one month after Chavez lost his battle with cancer -- is "very delicate" because it will be very brief, closing on April 11, three days before voters go to the polls.
The dead president, whose charisma and oil-funded social program made him hugely popular among the country's poor, is casting a shadow over the election.
"Maduro's strategy is the memory and tributes to the deceased leader," Diaz said.
"He defends his legacy and he will use his image as an example. His rival, Capriles, will refer to a dead person when he criticizes the government and he will therefore have the emotion over the death of Chavez against him," he said.
What is at play in this unusual election, Diaz cautioned, is "peace in Venezuela."
"Any irregularity will generate a terrible reaction and here nobody is stupid. I think that the CNE is conscious of its responsibility regarding the calm and peace of the Venezuelan family and I am certain that it will keep things under control," he said.
Critics of the CNE say the electoral body is biased and serving the government. Diaz said the Chavez government contributed to this image by undermining the CNE's decisions.
"It's as if there was a government policy to make the CNE look bad," he said, noting that Chavez named his campaign team for the October election in a national broadcast required for all media.
"This was an unprecedented abuse and the CNE did absolutely nothing," he said. Chavez won the October 7 election with 55 percent of the votes, compared to 44 percent for Capriles.
Despite his criticism of the campaign, Diaz said the electronic voting system was without reproach, with ballots cast in secret and counted correctly.
"The system has demonstrated that the one with the most votes will win and I think that Venezuelans trust more and more every day that their vote is decisive," he said, pointing out that the turnout in October reached 80 percent.
Diaz insisted that whoever wins the election, his victory will be recognized.
Maduro, the former vice president, has a double digit lead over Capriles in opinion polls.
"There is no other option," he said.
"I think that if Capriles wins, the government has no other option but to recognize it because it has enough information and representation in the CNE to know what the results are. If Maduro wins, I think that Capriles already showed his democratic spirit on October 7, when he lost to Chavez, by admitting his defeat."