The May 2 internal pre-selection of candidates from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) for the September 26 national elections served as another powerful example of the mobilising force of this mass party in construction.
With over 2.5 million party members participating, the PSUV not only demonstrated it is undeniably the largest national political force, but also its democratic and participatory nature. It set a new benchmark for involvement in internal elections by surpassing the 2.3 million that voted to pre-select PSUV candidates for governors and mayors in 2008.
Over 3,500 candidates stood in the 87 different electoral circuits for the 110 deputy spots and 110 alternate spots up for grabs.
The national leadership, in consultation with party president Hugo Chavez, who at the same time is president of Venezuela, will decide upon a further 52 candidates for deputies and 52 alternate deputies that will run on the state-based lists.
Candidates for the three indigenous seats in parliament will be selected by the indigenous peoples themselves.
The result reflected, in a contradictory manner, the desire of the grassroots to put “new faces” in parliament.
Of the 220 candidates pre-selected, 44 are members of the PSUV Youth. Of those, 27 are running for deputy, and 17 as alternates.
In stark comparison, the opposition “Roundtable of Democratic Unity” were unable to find a single place for some of the right wing student “leaders” paraded about by the private media.
On April 25, the opposition held unverified primary elections in only 15 of the 87 electoral circuits, to settle the most contentious areas, according to them mobilizing some 300,000 voters to participate. The rest were handpicked by the leaders of the various small opposition parties.
Only 38 of the 106 current deputies that ran in the internal elections won their right to stand again; 12 of them as alternates.
While none of the most well known union leaders were pre-selected as deputies (3 made the cut to be alternates), a number of worker, community and peasant activists made the list.
Women make up 51 of the candidates (23 deputies and 28 alternates).
Despite these results, the discontent among some sectors of the PSUV was clear.
State radio station RNV was dominated by calls on election night from party members denouncing acts of ventajismo: candidates using unfair advantages, such vote buying, bribes with state funded projects, and using state resources or personal apparatuses built up during their time in different administrative and elected posts as part of their electoral machinery.
Others flagrantly broke party regulations. Despite a ban on campaigning on polling day, pro-government alternative website Aporrea published photos and videos of election campaign material outside several polling booths, clearly showing that at least two candidates who are current members of the national leadership, broke the rules.
Denunciations were also made of party officials who used their status to convoke local party assemblies, which were subsequently converted into election rallies and press conferences for their candidate of choice.
“The infiltrated right won,” “Grassroots steamrolled by machinery,” “So, Dario [Vivas, head of PSUV coordinator mobilization and propaganda], when will the internal campaign norms of the PSUV be applied?” were some of the headlines of opinion pieces published right in the aftermath of the elections on Aporrea.
Many argued that the local apparatuses of mayors and governors, which reading the mood of the ranks, proposed in some cases young fresh faces as their candidates, were able to overcome those of sitting national assembly deputies.
Having raised criticisms about the campaigning process days before, Chavez asked in his weekly column published on the day of the election “Was there ventajismo and abuse of power by some of the candidates or groups or tendencies that support them?”
“In the hand moved by the most intimate consciousness of each one of you, compatriots, is the sacred decision of carrying out justice wherever it necessary, voting for those that are best” to assure the continuity of our “socialist and Bolivarian project.”
“We continue to drag with us the vices of the past,” explained Fernando Soto Rojas, a historic leader of the left, in a meeting to analyse the internal elections.
Soto Rojas came third in the electorate he stood for behind Robert Serra, who was not long ago parachuted in as the local coordinator of the government program to repair houses, and Juan Contreras, a long time and respected community activist in the local area.
Those with “institutional support, a media presence and a more or less adequate discourse” were able to impose themselves in a contest where “programmatic debate was generally absent,” added Soto Rojas.
A shorter version of this article was first published by Green Left Weekly on May 9th, 2010.