Venezuela: Opposition Gubernatorial Primaries Marred by Violent In-Fighting

Venezuela’s right-wing opposition held nationwide primaries Sunday to choose candidates for upcoming regional elections amid violent internal strife.

Scenes from the Plaza of Engineers voting station in Maracaibo, Zulia.

Caracas, September 11, 2017 ( – Venezuela’s opposition held nationwide primaries Sunday to choose candidates for upcoming regional elections amid violent strife among competing parties. 

The poll was organized by the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a hodgepodge of diverse political tendencies ranging from moderate social democrats to radical neoliberals – united only by their anti-government stance.

With final results in for 17 of Venezuela’s 23 states, the Democratic Action (AD) party – long hegemonic during the pre-Chavez era of pacted representative democracy known as the Fourth Republic (1958-1999) – came out on top, securing candidates in ten states. 

The center-right First Justice party (PJ), for its part, came in second place with candidates in five states, while candidates for the far-right Popular Will (VP) party were chosen in two states.

Results for the states of Amazonas, Barinas, Aragua, Bolivar, and Yaracuy have yet to be announced. Primaries were not held in Vargas, Nueva Esparta, Anzoategui, nor in Carabobo, where candidates were chosen by consensus among local opposition groups. 

Unlike previous opposition primaries, Sunday’s vote was held independently of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), which the MUD has repeatedly accused of fraud, despite failing to provide evidence to bolster the allegation.

As in past years, MUD officials have likewise announced that they will destroy all voting rolls within 48 hours in order to “safeguard the identity of voters”.

While Sunday’s primaries were intended to unite the opposition behind a single list of gubernatorial candidates, the day was marred by violent discord. 

In the western border state of Zulia, a tight race between PJ congressman Juan Pablo Guanipa and Maracaibo Mayor Eveling Trejo de Rosales of the New Time (UNT) party turned violent late Sunday afternoon. 

A street brawl erupted at the Plaza of Engineers voting center in Maracaibo after, “Armed men sent by UNT arrived in order to threaten us and tried to shut down the [voting] process,” PJ activists told Panorama.

Meanwhile in the eastern state of Sucre, clashes reportedly broke out at the Felix Lalito Velasquez voting center between supporters of Movement for Socialism candidate Ramon Martinez and the followers of AD’s Robert Alcala.

According to eyewitness accounts, both sides attempted to gain control of the boxes containing the election results, triggering a scuffle.  

“It all turned into a disaster. Some say that they took the results and others say that they didn’t. This is shameful,” voter Elida Mago told El Pitazo.

Confrontations likewise occurred in the Cabudare region of Lara state. Shouting “Resistance! Resistance!” a group of voters attempted to force their way into a voting center after the station had closed at 5pm.

In Aragua, PJ leader Richard Margo accused VP candidate Ismael Garcia of using “violence” against rival PJ contender Jose Ramon Arias. 

“Yesterday in the Paya [voting] center where Jose Ramon Arias was winning by a wide margin, violence was sparked in order to prevent [the center] from remaining open,” he tweeted.

The MUD has yet to announce a winner in the north-central state, and both candidates have claimed victory. 

Sunday’s vote comes amid growing polarization within Venezuela’s already divided opposition. 

Last month, a number of opposition parties called for boycotting upcoming regional elections, including the hardline VP and Vente Venezuela (VV) parties alongside the smaller, more center-right Alianza Bravo Pueblo.

Rejecting the legitimacy of the CNE, these parties pushed for continuing a campaign of violent anti-government protests aimed at immediately ousting President Nicolas Maduro, which resulted in at least 126 deaths in four months.

However, following the Trump administration’s rejection of a VP proposal for setting up a parallel government, the hard-right party opted to participate in elections alongside other major opposition parties. 

In reaction to the move, VV leader Maria Corina Machado announced that her party would be pulling out of the MUD, accusing her former coalition partners of “betraying Venezuelans”.

On August 12, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly issued a decree bringing regional elections forward from December to this October, though the CNE has yet to release finalized details. 

It remains to be seen whether the MUD – widely viewed as internally fractured and lacking program – can successfully channel widespread anti-government discontent fueled by the country’s acute economic crisis into an electoral triumph next month.