Election observers go to Venezuela

CARACAS — As international delegates begin trickling into Venezuela to oversee Sunday's National Parliamentary election, some in this nation of 27 million say there are too few coming too late to watch the hotly contested vote.

While the delegates will be a welcome set of eyes, their role will be largely symbolic, said Jose Albornoz of the center-left Country for All party.

"The observers will be like that Shakira song," he said, referring to the Colombian pop-star's song Ciego Sordo Mudo. "They'll be blind, deaf and mute."

Both sides say there is more at stake than just the 165 seats in parliament.

President Hugo Chavez has said his allies must control at least two-thirds of the body in order to "radicalize" his socialist revolution.

For the opposition, it's a chance to flex its political muscle after boycotting the parliamentary race in 2005 and to put the brakes on the executive branch.

Unlike in the previous parliamentary race in 2005, delegations from the Organization of American States, the European Union and the Carter Center -- the foundation created by former President Jimmy Carter -- were not invited to watch the run-up to the vote.

Instead, each political coalition is allowed to bring up to 30 witnesses from abroad. But their ability to report and comment on what they see is being tightly controlled.

To emphasize that point, a full-page newspaper ad welcomes them to Venezuela and then warns them "not to interfere with the nation's internal affairs."

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