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Venezuela's State Election Campaigns Take Shape

Merida, November 11th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – While polls show President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates for governors to be leading in most states, some tense situations are developing as both opposition and pro-Chavez forces are divided in some states, and the membership of both sides are criticising campaign strategies being employed.

Campaigning is due to close in two weeks, on 13 December, and will be followed by elections on 16 December with 23 state governor positions and 229 positions in state legislative councils at stake.

Polls and predicted outcomes

A poll by private company Consultores VOP released two days ago and conducted between 5- 7 November has given PSUV candidates strong leads in 11 states.

In the 2008 regional state elections the PSUV won 17 of the 22 governorships up for election that year.

Head of the pro-government polling company GIS XXI, Jesse Chacon, however, has declared, “[Pro-Chavez candidates] are going to have more governors than they have now." He also predicted participation levels of 60-65%. 81% of eligible voters participated in the presidential elections two months ago.

Oscar Schemel, president of private poll agency Hinterlaces, a company which tends to favour the opposition in its predictions, said, “[The pro-Chavez movement] has a great opportunity in these regional elections, they are coming out of a strong and clear electoral triumph. That, evidently, sustains their enthusiasm, motivation, and the mobilisation of their supporters."

“The socialist candidates are employing an important campaign concept: efficiency, follow-through, and results. These are key ideas in such a short election campaign,” Schemel said.

Luis Leon, director of another pro-opposition and private polling company Datanalisis, said that on 16 December, “the majority of governors will stay in the hands of the Chavistas... the success of the opposition doesn’t depend on the number of states that it wins, but rather on the importance of those states. Miranda is vital”.

Venezuelan Communist Party will maintain its four candidates

The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) confirmed yesterday in a press conference that it would maintain its support for 19 PSUV governor candidates, but will also uphold its nomination of four of its own candidates, who will ultimately be competing with the PSUV. These are in the states of Amazonas, Portuguesa, Bolivar, and Merida, where the PCV is critical of the candidates chosen by Chavez and the PSUV national executive.

When the PCV originally nominated its four separate candidates, it was believed that in each of those states either the PCV or PSUV would withdraw one candidate, so as to avoid a divided pro-Chavez vote. Now it seems unlikely that this will happen, though changes or withdrawal of candidates are allowed until 6 December.

At the press conference, in response to a question from a journalist about using the “figure of Chavez to promote PCV candidates”, PCV leader Douglas Gomez responded that none of the four candidates “are candidates of Chavez, but they are candidates of the revolutionary process...they have been and are militants of the revolutionary process, hence they can’t be categorised as opposition."

Last week PSUV vice-president Diosdado Cabello criticised a candidate in Apure state, Jesus Estrada, who is supported by two pro-Chavez organisations; the Tupamaros and the Electoral Movement of the People (MEP), for using Chavez’s name and image.

Opposition divided in Monagas state, disrespects their primary election outcomes

Last Friday opposition parties chose a new executive secretary in Monagas for their coalition, the MUD, after divisions arose when leading members of the MUD in that state supported Jose Briceño as their candidate for governor, even though Soraya Hernandez was already representing the MUD. Hernandez had been elected in the MUD’s primary elections in February.

William Tovar, previously the executive secretary together with leaders of many key opposition parties such as Democratic Action (AD) and Justice First, declared his support for Briceño last Sunday. He said his decision was based on the fact that polls gave Briceño a 35% lead over Hernandez. The national leadership of the MUD however has ratified its support for Hernandez.

A similar situation has seen Henrique Capriles, candidate for the opposition in the recent presidential elections and current governor of Miranda, register as candidate for that position in the upcoming elections, even though the MUD membership had chosen Carlos Ocariz in its primary elections.

A journalist, Fernando Rodriguez, writing for the right-wing newspaper Tal Cual, commented, “The conflict in Monagas state, with two anti-Chavez candidates, could very possibly lead us to losing a vital piece in the game, and that has to be resolved."

The recent Consultores VOP poll gave PSUV candidate for Monagas, Yelitza Santaella, 52.2% support, Jose Briceño 26.9% support, and Soraya Hernandez 5.8%.

Chavez supporters divided in Merida state

Last Friday thousands of people filled the Toros Plaza, a large bull fighting stadium in Merida, to support the PSUV candidate, Alexis Ramirez.  Ramirez has stated he supports the bull fights, even though the majority of Meridenans are against them, their main backing coming from the businesses which profit from them.

Merida was one of only two states in which Chavez received fewer votes than opposition contender Henrique Capriles in October’s presidential elections. However, it is believed unlikely that the opposition contender for governor, Lester Rodriguez, will garner many votes. As mayor of Merida, Rodriguez’s administration has neglected to collect rubbish for the last four months, causing environmental and health crises, and general discontent.

As in most states, PSUV campaigners for Ramirez have based their campaign on the slogan, “Ramirez, the candidate of Chavez”, and have put up propaganda with the catchphrase “loyalty or nothing”, as well as propaganda that labels the PCV candidate, Florencio Porras, as a “traitor”.

Some PSUV grassroots members have criticised Ramirez, arguing that he was not seen publically in the months of campaigning leading up to the presidential elections, nor was he known of by most Meridenans before his nomination.

Many Chavez supporters in Merida are undecided on how to vote, with the VOP poll suggesting Ramirez has 35% support, Rodriguez 20.3%, “other” has 19.7%, 18.7% of those surveyed are undecided, and 6.2% have no intention to vote.

The MEP, which had previously supported Porras, announced last week that they would support Ramirez in order to not “put the revolution in danger”.

Miranda and Zulia states

Miranda and Zulia are two other key states, both for their large populations and economic importance, as well as for being two opposition states that could go over to the PSUV.

Miranda, being contested by Capriles for the opposition and by former vice-president Elias Jaua for the PSUV, is predicted by the VOP poll to go to Jaua with  45.4% support to Capriles’ 40.8%, however a more recent IVAD poll has Capriles winning 54.1% to Jaua's 28.1%.

In Zulia, current governor and second in the opposition’s primaries for its presidential candidate, Pablo Perez polled 34.1%, to 56.4% support for the PSUV’s Francisco Cardenas.

Published on Nov 28th 2012 at 12.51am