Venezuela’s Opposition Agrees on Candidates for National Assembly

Opposition leaders presented their slate of candidates to the National Assembly, following long and dificult negotiations. Many were unhappy with the final list and a few problems still need to be ironed out, but the opposition says it is now ready to confront pro-chavez candidates in December.

Caracas, Venezuela, September 20, 2005—Venezuela’s opposition groups announced that they will present a united front of candidates for the upcoming December 4th National Assembly elections. The list encompasses members from nearly all opposition parties and from several NGOs, plus so-called “political prisoners.” Many opposition leaders are unhappy with the agreement and the candidates, though. For weeks, it had been a open question as to whether the opposition would reach such an agreement.

Representatives of the parties Democratic Action (AD), Copei (Christian Democrats), Justice First (PJ), Movement towards Socialism (MAS), and Project Venezuela (PV), made the announcement about the unified opposition candidates’ slate. Conspicuously absent were representatives from the left-of center party Radical Cause (LCR).

Enrique Mendoza, the former governor of the state of Miranda and former presidential hopeful, read the opposition grouping’s statement, saying “now there is a powerful reason to vote.” He also said, “this is not a unity that was imposed by a caudillo (strong man). … It is a unity of democrats.”

Mendoza explained that part of the opposition’s agreement involved the creation of an election monitoring group, which will be called, “Venezuelan Network for Electoral Transparency” and will consist of volunteers who will, “guarantee that in 100% of the voting centers people demand the opening of the ballot box for a manual count.” Ever since the August 2004 presidential recall referendum, Venezuela has been using voting machines, which generate paper ballots that are supposed to be counted if the vote is challenged.

The representative from the right-of-center party Justice First, Gerardo Blyde, said that this electoral agreement was only for the National Assembly election and does not represent a repeat of the disbanded opposition umbrella group Democratic Coordinator.

Henry Ramos Allup, of AD, said that the negotiations within the opposition were difficult and “at times tense and rough.” According to Ramos Allup, the agreement is still has problems that would be ironed out in the next few days.

Among the candidates the opposition named were nearly all of the individuals the opposition considers to be political prisoners. Among these are Ivan Simonovis, the former police chief who is awaiting trial on the charge of having ordered the police to shoot at pro-Chavez civilians during the April 2002 coup attempt. Others include several of those in prison for having removed the governor of Tachira state from office during the 2002 coup.

Another prominent prisoner, Carlos Ortega, who is awaiting trial for his role in the shutdown and sabotage of the country’s all-important oil industry in late 2002 to early 2003, was nominated to be candidate for the Latin American Parliament. Ortega, however, declined the nomination with the argument that too many compromises had been made in the setting up of opposition candidates – that not all of them were truly committed to opposing Chavez’s presidency.

National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro reacted to the opposition’s inclusion of prominent prisoners by saying that if they are elected, the new National Assembly’s first order of business would be to remove the parliamentary immunity these individuals would enjoy as members of the National Assembly. “The opposition wants that the assassins of the people of Caracas—Simonovis, Vivas, and Forero—are freed under the protection of parliamentary immunity,” said Maduro.

Maduro also said that the government has intelligence that opposition leaders met at the U.S. embassy, along with the U.S. ambassador and CIA representatives, who pushed the opposition to form a unified slate.

Chavez and his supporters have on several occasions indicated that they hope to achieve a two-thirds majority in the national assembly, so that that they could make changes to the constitution. the opposition, though, has said that they will do everything they can to prevent such a majority.