Caracas, Venezuela, March 17, 2005—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will have the last word in a conflict among parties of his governing coalition over the selection of candidates for this August’s election of city councilors and district councils. Earlier this month Willian Lara, of the governing party Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), announced a proposal for the selection of pro-government candidates based on the d’Hondt method, which allots positions based on the popularity of each party, rather than on the popularity of individual candidates, as other members of the pro-Chavez coalition want. Chavez, in a statement made this afternoon, denied that there were internal divisions and said that what was happening represented “natural differences.”
The selection method, which slightly favors large parties, will be based on the results of regional elections held last October, said Lara. According to the MVR’s calculations, they will nominate 70% of candidates, with the other parties to nominate the remaining 30%.
But other leaders of the pro-government coalition, ‘Bloc for Change,’ rejected Lara’s proposals, which they say are heavily weighted in favor of the MVR (the largest party in the bloc).
In a press conference Wednesday morning at the head office of the People’s Electoral Movement (MEP), leaders of Fatherland for All (PPT), ‘We Can’ (Podemos), Emerging People (GE), Civil-Military Bolivarian Front (FBCM), and Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV) accused Lara and the MVR of acting unilaterally.
“We cannot accept this imposition,” said Podemos leader Ismael García, “because in future we’ll just be waiting to be left behind.”
“There are 4 million Chavistas to whom we owe an answer,” added PPT leader José Albornoz. “It is our political and moral responsibility to consult them,” he added.
Albornoz and the other leaders in the pro-Chávez alliance called for open primaries in which all parties in the Bloc for Change would participate, insisting that this was the most democratic method to nominate candidates.
MVR leader Willian Lara responded to the other parties in the alliance, saying “this proposal is the best way. It was consulted and approved by Chávez.”
Lina Ron, the outspoken leader of the UPV addressed Lara during the press conference, saying “to my comrade Willian Lara I say: no pretensions, because unity is based on respect and not blackmail.” “Here the only undisputable leader is el comandante Chávez,” she added.
Ron and the leaders of the other non-MVR parties in the Bloc have submitted a request for a meeting with Chávez to raise their concerns personally.
In brief comments to the press today, Chavez said that he was very optimistic about the way the MVR and all allied parties have come to consolidate” the coalition that was first formed around Chavez. “We are an alliance of currents that every day becomes stronger,” said Chavez.
The debate between the MVR and the rest of the alliance has lead many analysts to predict a rupture in the alliance.
Second Vice President to the National Assembly Pedro Carreño (MVR) denied there was a rupture, speaking instead of the other Bloc for Change parties’ “legitimate right” to question the decision. “There is no confrontation here,” said Carreño, “and I think that the forces of change that respect the revolutionary process are becoming more cohesive every day.”
Carreño did not refrain from voicing his support for his party’s position, however. The method corresponding most closely to the popular will according to Carreño is the d’Hondt method, which “takes into consideration the regional elections.”
But Ismael García, deputy to the National Assembly and leader of the pro-Chavez party Podemos, rejected this reasoning, noting that the votes obtained in past elections were for President Chávez, not for specific political organizations. This view is corroborated by many analysts who argue that last Venezuelans voted in last October’s regional elections according to whether or not they supported Chávez’ leadership.
Meanwhile, center-left parties in the opposition are attempting to rebuild an alliance for the upcoming elections in August. After the now defunct Democratic Coordinator (CD) failed to present unified candidates in last October’s regional elections, the fractious alliance was disbanded.
Leading up to the regional elections, some parties in the opposition called for unity, some for partisan support, and some for abstention. The resulting confusion among opposition voters, and their frustration with the CD’s lack of unity, translated into low participation rates among opposition voters, giving pro-Chávez candidates a strong advantage. Whereas participation reached 70% in the recall referendum, it was 45.7% only two months later in the regional elections, which is low even by historical standards.
For the 22 states up for grabs in the elections, the Chavista-bloc put forth 31 candidates, only doubling-up in a few states. The opposition put forth 68 candidates for those same 22 spots.
Leaders of the Movement Towards Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo – MAS), Democratic Left (Izquierda Democrática – ID), Red Flag (Bandera Roja – BR), People of the People (Gente del Pueblo – GP), Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático – PD), and the Agricultural Alliance (Alianza Agropecuaria – AA) held a joint press conference yesterday, where they called for unified candidates, and expressed their openness to form further alliances. The leaders of the Center-Left alliance also expressed their hope that the centre-Right parties in opposition to Chávez’s government would form a similar group with which they could cooperate.Today the Center-Left bloc will meet for the first time. Leaders of the Christian Democratic Copei, and two other center-Right parties (Justice First and Project Venezuela) have also been invited, though Copei is the only party to have confirmed their participation.