Merida, 23rd April 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's opposition has turned to the wives of two imprisoned former mayors in snap elections scheduled for next month.
By-elections in two municipalities were called by Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) earlier this month, following the imprisonment of two then-serving opposition mayors. Both former mayors were found guilty of violating an order from the Supreme Court to remove street barricades erected by anti-government groups.
The barricades have been regularly used in anti-government protests since February, but have also become flashpoints for clashes between armed groups and security forces. Of at least 40 casualties from the protests, as many as 20 deaths could be linked to the barricades or militant anti-government groups, according to Venezuelanalysis' running list of fatalities.
Former mayor of Tachira state's capital San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, was sentenced to just over one year imprisonment, while Enzo Scarano, the former mayor of San Diego, Carabobo was sentenced to ten and a half months. Both have been stripped of their mayoral positions.
Shortly before nominations for the new mayoral elections in San Cristobal and San Diego were set to close, Venezuela's largest opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) nominated both former mayors' wives to stand in the two municipalities during the by-elections, scheduled for 25 May.
MUD head Ramon Guillermo Aveledo announced on Monday that Rosa de Scarano will run in San Diego. During a press conference, Scarano described her husband's imprisonment as “political and arbitrary”.
Patricia Ceballos has now also been confirmed as the MUD's candidate in San Cristobal. During a visit to San Cristobal on Wednesday, the coalition's mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma called on opposition supporters to “vote massively” for Ceballos.
“We are here to give our full support to the candidacy of this courageous woman who now takes the flags of her husband and all the inhabitants of San Cristobal, wishing to express their rejection of the abuses that have been committed,” Ledezma stated. Opposition supporters including Ledezma marched with Ceballos to the CNE to formally declare her candidacy.
Both San Diego and San Cristobal are opposition strongholds. During the December 2013 municipal elections, the MUD won San Diego with 75.24% of the vote, and San Cristobal with 67.86%. Scarano's closest opponent in San Diego received 18.01% of the vote, while in San Cristobal, the runner up received 29.42% of the vote. However, both municipalities have been hit by unpopular opposition barricades and anti-government violence. According to a poll conducted by Hinterlaces in March, around 87% of Venezuelans oppose the opposition barricades.
The pro-government coalition, Great Patriotic Poll (GPP) has announced it will contest both seats.
The socialist party's (PSUV) candidate, Alejandro Mendez will stand for the GPP in San Cristobal, Tachira's governor Jose Vielma Mora announced on Tuesday. Two third party candidates are also running, but according to the governor, there will be “no other candidate” for the GPP.
“We want to work to develop and improve San Cristobal. We want to work with a mayor who cares about the city,” Vielma stated.
If elected, Mendez has pledged to “establish peace, tranquillity and chart a new course for San Cristobal”.
“Today begins the countdown until San Cristobal finally receives a mayor ... who loves the city and – that under no circumstances – will allow terrorism and violence seize it,” Mendez stated.
However, Mendez is also facing his own controversy. Today, the opposition-aligned newspaper El Universal claimed that Mendez isn't registered to vote in San Cristobal municipality, citing data from the CNE. Without being registered in the city, Mendez would be ineligible to stand as mayor.
In San Diego, the GPP coalition has endorsed Alexis Abreu from the People's Electoral Movement (MEP). According to Ultimas Noticias, the PSUV had initially put forth its own Jorge Delgado to represent the coalition. Delgado had previously run for mayor in 2008.
However, on Tuesday the MEP's head Wilmer Nolasco announced that Abreu had been locked in as the GPP's sole candidate for the municipality. According to Ultimas Noticias, sources within the PSUV confirmed shortly later that Delgado had withdrawn.
The CNE will confirm the eligibility of candidates between the close of registration tonight, and Friday. Campaigning will run for ten days between 14 and 23 May.
The CNE has stated it has already begun preparations for the by-elections, with the first round of preliminary audits completed yesterday.
Maduro welcomed the news, but urged candidates to support peace. The president warned that more mayors could face prosecution if they don't abide by the law – including the victors of the upcoming by-elections.
“Whoever wins these elections, at the first false move, the authorities will act quickly,” he said.
“The fate that awaits [mayors who violate the law] will be the same of those behind bars,” he stated.