Opponents clash to take on the powerful Venezuelan leader

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s fractured opposition leaders are shaking hands with voters and promising — yet again — they will defeat President Nicolás Maduro at the polls.

Maduro is backed by the all-powerful United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which has controlled the nation and its oil wealth for a quarter of a century. The party was led for 15 years by Hugo Chávez and was behind Maduro for a decade, while tilting the electoral system in its favor and using government perks as an incentive to vote for him.

Despite the exorbitant odds against them, opposition leaders say giving up would be worse, so they are holding a primary on October 22 to decide who will face Maduro next year. They are getting a mixed reception from discouraged voters who have been told for years to boycott elections.

Interested candidates could officially enter the race from Tuesday, but many electoral bases – such as who will vote, how and where – remain undetermined. Yet so far a dozen politicians think they have what it takes to take on Maduro and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

“All of us Venezuelans who want to live better, who want to live in a democracy, must do what is within our reach,” said Jesús María Casal, a constitutional prosecutor who heads the body overseeing the primary.

The list of aspiring candidates includes Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate and former governor, and Maria Corina Machado, a former member of the National Assembly. Freddy Superlano, a former gubernatorial candidate, became his party’s choice after Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s self-proclaimed former interim president, left the country in late April.

Voters are suffocated by a protracted crisis that has driven more than 7 million people to migrate and made food and other necessities unaffordable for those left behind.

Since Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998, ushering in a movement he said defended the working class, Venezuelans have participated in 17 elections, including presidential, legislative, gubernatorial and municipal elections.

The elections were marked by the free use of food, appliances and other goods as political tools. Pro-government candidates had privileged access to subsidized gasoline and favorable coverage on state television for the ruling party.

The elections also featured so-called red checkpoints – named after the color the ruling party co-opted more than two decades ago. Checkpoints near polling stations are usually manned by ruling party allies who ask people to see the government-issued cards needed to receive food and other assistance.

The lack of fair electoral conditions has prompted some opposition leaders to encourage boycotts over the past two decades. But the strategy failed, and the various opposition parties and factions have been working for months to reach agreements to hold the first primary since 2012.

Guaidó, who did not vote in the 2021 regional elections, has this year encouraged Venezuelans living abroad to send money to friends so they can pay for trips to voter registration offices .

“Your family and friends in Venezuela need your help to participate in the primary,” says a video tweeted by Guaidó in March. “Support them with travel expenses.”

Casal’s group has called on the country’s electoral authorities to update voter lists and facilitate the voter registration process.

Opposition parties, interested candidates, longtime leaders and key organizers have yet to agree on whether to use government-owned electronic voting machines in the October contest. It is also unclear whether polling stations will be set up in schools across the country.

Disagreements within the opposition center on whether Venezuelans living abroad and of voting age should vote in the primary. Venezuelan law contemplates postal voting by allowing citizens to vote at consulates. But interested voters must be properly registered with their overseas address and cannot be in that country illegally or apply for refugee status or asylum.

Ruling party leader Diosdado Cabello insisted the opposition would fail to hold a primary. If he is wrong, the opposition must also figure out how to handle a primary victory by a candidate who authorities have previously barred from running for office. Superlano and Capriles are subject to such bans, which many see as part of the government’s anti-dissent tactics.

Superlano was a candidate for governor of Barinas, where Chávez was born, in 2021. As the election results showed him winning, Venezuela’s High Court disqualified him. His wife, who was chosen to succeed him, was also deemed ineligible. His replacement too.

Guaidó, who is also banned from electoral activities, moved to Miami in April, citing growing threats to his safety and that of his family. Last week, Capriles twice accused ruling party loyalists of disturbing campaign events, including a Friday in which women repeatedly pushed and punched him, an incident captured in a video Capriles shared. posted on Twitter.

Capriles won the last opposition presidential primary and ran against Chávez in October 2012. Six months later, he faced Maduro, who became interim president of Venezuela on Chávez’s death.

“What’s going to happen? I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Capriles told reporters of the bans. neither ask the government for permission (to see) whether I can run or not.”

Leave a Comment