Election official: Chavez breaking campaign rules
CARACAS, Venezuela—An electoral official accused President Hugo Chavez and his allies of breaking campaign laws by using state-run media to berate rivals and praise friends ahead of this month's legislative elections.
Vicente Diaz, one of the National Election Council's five directors, said Chavez is violating legislation prohibiting elected officials from using their posts to promote candidacies. Chavez has ignored the law, which also bans the use of state media and public funds for campaigning purposes, Diaz said.
"We must investigate because (the president) is insulting other candidates ... through the use of state media," Diaz told a news conference.
Diaz is the council's only director who is sympathetic to the opposition's complaints. The council's other four directors, including its president, are former members of the ruling party or widely perceived as pro-Chavez, and none of them have raised concerns over the alleged violations.
The five directors were appointed by the predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly in 2006.
Chavez denied breaking the law and suggested he intends to keep backing his allies' campaigns: "I'm a political leader," he said.
He also said Diaz could face criminal charges for allegedly making false accusations; he did not elaborate.
Opposition candidates argue that Chavez is getting an edge by using state media for electioneering, along with a law that lets him seize control of TV and radio airwaves at will.
Former presidents used the measure to address the nation in times of crisis, to announce important decisions or changes in economic policies, but Chavez frequently goes on the air to give speeches lasting hours. He often takes the opportunity to praise allies and warn that an opposition victory could allow foes to derail his efforts to transform this South American country into a socialist state.
"While we are visiting voters, going from house to house, the ruling party's campaign is imposed through televised speeches," said opposition-sided independent candidate Maria Corina Machado.
Tibisay Lucena, president of the election council, said Diaz's concerns have not been discussed by the body and he was wrong to go public with them first.
She called his statements "a media show" that aims to sow "confusion among voters."