Infighting threatens Venezuela vote
Local elections on 23 November 2008 will certainly have a long lasting effect on Venezuelan politics. It would decide the fate of President Chavez after his current administration term is over. It would also prove the ability of oppostion leaders to grasp power again. No wonder, there have been bitter infighting in both polical fields.
Infighting threatens Venezuela vote
By Benedict Mander in Caracas
Published: August 3 2008 23:22 | Last updated: August 3 2008 23:22
Bitter infighting between political parties struggling to resolve differences and official measures to ban opposition candidates on corruption charges are threatening to overshadow regional elections in Venezuela this autumn.
Increasingly evident internal divisions between parties supporting leftwing President Hugo Chávez as well as within the opposition movement – which lacks a clear leader to settle its differences – are in danger of splitting votes on both sides, analysts say, as parties scramble to nominate candidates by the August 12 registration deadline. An added complication for the opposition is that some of its most popular candidates are likely to remain disqualified because of corruption charges, pending a ruling from the Supreme Court.
Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Programme at the Carter Center, which played a key role in endorsing Venezuela’s disputed 2004 recall referendum, worries about perceptions that electable opposition politicians are being prevented from running to clear the way for government-backed candidates.
“This perception has the potential to damage the legitimacy of the elections and those elected in them, particularly if the legal issues are not resolved by the Supreme Court before the candidate registration period,” she said.
Tensions in Mr Chávez’s ruling coalition appear to have abated after the president railed against dissidents on Sunday, but a leader of Mr Chávez’s party, Diosdado Cabello, admitted that agreed candidates for all seats would be “practically impossible”. Mr Chávez has warned of “civil war” if several particularly important seats are lost.
Similarly, while opposition parties seem mired in dispute in many areas, they have nevertheless been able to compromise in some of the most critical races including that for the mayoralty of Sucre in Caracas, which contains one of the largest slums in Latin America. Pollsters say the opposition has a good chance of winning this election, a huge symbolic victory over Mr Chávez, whose core supporters are the poor.
Mr Chávez suffered his first electoral defeat in almost a decade as president in a referendum over constitutional changes last December, largely because of popular dissatisfaction at the government’s failure to resolve basic problems such as food shortages, inflation, crime and corruption.
The November 23 elections for governorships and mayoralties offer the opposition an opportunity to consolidate its support base, and build a platform from which to mount an effective challenge in national assembly elections in 2010 and presidential elections in 2012. At the moment, the opposition controls four of 24 governorships, but Consultores 21, local pollsters, said this week they could win as many as 10 in November.
“Plurality is emerging: after these elections we will have a much more fluid political map and the game is going to open up, allowing more diversity, dialogue and discussion,” says José Virtuoso, a political analyst and a director of Electoral Eye, an independent local election monitor. “Chávez will be under greater pressure for his political project to be more democratic.”
Still, Gregory Wilpert, a political scientist sympathetic to Mr Chávez, questions to what extent the elections will limit Mr Chávez’s room for manoeuvre. While he admits that the president has “mellowed” in recent months – perhaps in order to gain electoral support in the forthcoming elections – he does not rule out more radicalisation in 2009, with the next elections not due until 2010.
“Chávez, as usual, is totally exaggerating the significance of these elections. Venezuela is still a very presidential political system. Having half of the governorships in opposition hands [as was the case before 2004] was important for the opposition, but it didn’t put any real brakes on Chávez,” he says.