Venezuela’s Democratic Action Party Breaks from MUD as Opposition Fractures Deepen

A lack of presidential primaries and internal tensions are believed to have brought about the schism.

By Paul Dobson
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Venezuela’s opposition bloc – the MUD – has been battered by a number of key defections in recent months
Venezuela’s opposition bloc – the MUD – has been battered by a number of key defections in recent months (Courtesy / La Patilla)

Merida, July 9, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s largest opposition party, Democratic Action (AD), became the latest to split from the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) last week, throwing the right-wing anti-government coalition into further disarray.

General secretary of the social democratic AD party and National Assembly deputy, Henry Ramos Allup, announced the decision Thursday citing “administrative” conflicts as well as a lack of action by the organization.

“We have decided to separate ourselves from the MUD so as to start tours around the country,” he told the nation.

Allup also highlighted the breach of a July 2017 agreement to hold primaries to select a unity candidate for this year’s presidential elections – in which the AD party boss would have been a strong contender – as well as a spat between his party and fellow MUD member Popular Will over naming the bloc’s general secretary.

AD, who has provided seven Venezuelan presidents since its founding in 1941, formed part of the Punto Fijo system of pacted two-party rule which lasted from 1958 to 1998. Initially established with socialist leanings, the party drifted rightwards upon coming to power and eventually formed a key element of the anti-Chavista MUD coalition.

Apart from the reasons made public by Allup, analysts have also pointed to brewing internal tension both between AD and the rest of the MUD, as well as within AD itself, as possible causes for the surprise schism.

Since the MUD’s far-right faction opted to unsuccessfully return to a strategy of extra-constitutional regime change in 2014 and later in 2017, friction has arisen with more traditional opposition parties, with AD, COPEI, Progressive Advance (AP) and A New Era (UNT) -- who prefer to back electoral means and negotiation -- becoming alienated. AP’s leader, Henri Falcon, was expelled in February after announcing his presidential candidacy in violation of a MUD boycott of the elections.

The MUD’s strategic zig-zags have drawn criticism, even from among its own former chiefs.

Following the opposition defeat in October 15 regional elections, former MUD Secretary General, Jesus Torrealba,complained “The insurrection failed, [the MUD] failed at these past elections and on top of that they don't like dialogue. So if you don't want to vote, you're bad at insurrection, and you don't want to dialogue, what do you want - collective suicide?"

In the same order of ideas, First Justice leader and ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski withdrew from the bloc last year, claiming, “I won’t continue to be in the MUD whilst Mr Ramos Allup is there.”

In recent years, AD has also seemed to struggle to reconcile the electoral and non-electoral paths to power.

Boycotting the July 2017 constitutional assembly elections as part of the MUD, AD later decided to participate in the October 2017 regional elections alongside fellow opposition parties, winning 17% of the vote, all four of the opposition governorships, and being the most voted opposition party in 14 of the 24 federal entities.

Shortly after the October election, AD Governors Laydi Gómez (Táchira), Ramón Guevara (Mérida), Alfredo Díaz (Nueva Esparta) and Antonio Barreto Sira (Anzoátegui) were all expelled from their ranks after agreeing to be sworn in by the National Constituent Assembly, a body which AD has defined as “illegal.”

Similarly, following pressure from both Washington and the MUD, AD decided to once again boycott both the December 2017 local elections and May 2018 presidential and state councillor elections.

However, the policy of electoral boycott apparently stoked discontent among the party rank-and-file, with the Merida-based regional committee declaring that they were planning on presenting candidates for state council before a sharp reprimand by Allup forced them to toe the party line.

AD’s break with the MUD’s pro-boycott posture does, nonetheless, open the door for their participation in the upcoming December elections for municipal councils, provoking fresh criticisms of inconsistency on the part of the historic party.

“Today [AD] abstains, but tomorrow they participate. They sit down to dialogue, but then leave the negotiating table in an untimely manner. They say they believe in the electoral route but they aren’t upset by either a national or foreign military way out. Their principal defect, as people see it, is their incoherence,” observed AP party spokesman Enrique Ochoa

MUD in crisis

Amidst the recent string of opposition defeats, the MUD alliance has descended into internal strife, losing a number of key parties. Apart from the expulsion of AP in February, two other parties -- Vente Venezuela and Emerging People -- have also left, bringing the total to four parties that have left so far in 2018.

Similarly, Christian democratic heavyweight COPEI left at the end of 2015 following in the footsteps of smaller parties such as Red Flag (2014), Movement to Socialism (2013), Homeland for All (2012), and PODEMOS (2012).

The remaining fifteen parties are largely dominated by the far-right Popular Will and First Justice, as well as the center-right social democratic UNT, who, alongside AD, were referred to as the G4 of the MUD.

In the wake of AD’s withdrawal, renowned conservative journalist Vladimir Villegas accused Allup of acting like a “dictator” in the alliance.

“AD has left the MUD due to the dictator of the G4, which is now G3, and careful it doesn’t end up being G2,” he warned.

Meanwhile, AP spokesman, Eduardo Semtei offered a different take on the internal workings of the MUD coalition, explaining, “there is anarchy and blackmailing… if you are not radical, then you are [considered] a collaborator, a traitor… this is why AD left.”

Equally, AD lawmaker Edgar Zambrano analysed that the Venezuelan opposition lacks focus, claiming that the MUD is “more efficient in their self-destruction than in attacking the government.”