The numbers game
Some of you have written in to ask where on earth I got that 4 million number. I should own up that, well, in some sense I'm being remiss in even publishing numbers at all, even if very few people actually read this site, cuz CNE told us not to. CNE will have to make the final announcement 30 days after the opposition officially turns in the signatures...until that happens, of course, it's all speculation. So, what follows is (very evidently) not official, and could turn out to be wrong...caveat lector.
But frankly, what follows is also already out in the public domain in Venezuela...almost any marginally politically astute Google user could find it. Even watching TV you can intuit what's going on. Opposition leaders cannot talk about numbers out right, but the huge grins on their faces on TV say it all.
My sister, who is a member of an opposition NGO, said the atmosphere at their headquarters last night was understatedly jubilant. They have been warned to avoid overly exhuberant celebration because they are very mindful that this is NOT the referendum. Triumphalism at this point would send the wrong message. Interestingly, even my sister was not given an unofficial number of signatures gathered so far by her NGO leaders last night, which suggests to me they are taking seriously the prohibition on talking about this in public.
(Not everyone in the opposition is being quite so demure. That idjit, Henry Ramos (the AD party chief) flashed four fingers at the camera on globovision last night, big grin on his face, without saying a word...CNE should censure him for it, they really should.)
My sister said the mood at her NGO was essentially party-like - people laughing and singing and dancing into the wee hours. There's a real sense that the referendum can't be stopped at this point...the point of no return is crossed.
The understanding she got was that the opposition is set to outstrip their tally from Feb. 2nd, 2003, when 3.4 million people went out to sign. How many more? Too early to tell. Descifrado.com guesses 4.2 million sigs total, but we won't know for sure until January 10th, which is when the verification period expires apparently.
[For beginners, I should recall here that there are 12 million registered voters in Venezuela. The opposition needs to collect 2.4 million signatures to call a recall referendum. However, on the referendum itself, they will need 3.76 million votes to actually recall Chavez. The rule is somewhat quirky: to recall an official you need to get more votes against him than that official initially received when s/he ran for office - and 3.76 million is how many votes Chavez got in 2000. The feeling in the opposition is that if the signature tally from this weekend tops the 3.76 million mark, Chavez is the political equivalent of the walking dead. And if it's substantially beyond that - over 4 million, say - his eventual recall is almost certain. That's why 4 million is such a psychologically important mark...and why the opposition, by and large, is celebrating.]
So no, I didn't make up the numbers, but no, I can't be sure.