Mérida, August 9, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – High-ranking officials have swept the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s (PSUV) internal primaries for the upcoming November 21 regional and local “mega-elections.”
“We [the PSUV] have always believed in the electoral route since 1997,” explained PSUV President Nicolás Maduro upon placing his vote in Caracas. For his part, the party’s Vice President Diosdado Cabello stressed the need for unity following some fierce internal battles: “The divisions are over, we have to come out of this together, strengthened to confront whoever we have to.”
First results from PSUV headquarters revealed comfortable victories for at least nine incumbent governors in Barinas, Carabobo, Guárico, Yaracuy, Lara, Delta Amacuro, Falcón, Miranda, and Zulia states, who will now seek reelection. A number of grassroots hopes were thwarted both at the postulation stage and on election day itself.
Likewise, government-appointed “protectors” secured nominations in Mérida, Anzoátegui and Táchira states. “Protector” offices are parallel governors in opposition-controlled states which generally command party structures as well as federal programs including CLAP food distribution and fuel supply. The offices are due to be abolished after the elections.
Elsewhere, Vargas Mayor José Terán was also victorious in La Guaïra state’s governorship candidature, following the death of the popular incumbent and Terán’s close friend Jorge Luis García Carneiro earlier this year.
A number of governor candidates are yet to be declared, but incumbent governors are leading in Aragua, Cojedes and Amazonas states at the time of writing, while sitting mayors or “protectors,” as well as former ministers or recently elected deputies, are leading in Nueva Esparta, Apure, Bolivar, Sucre and Trujillo states.
In the mayoralty races, Defence Minister Carmen Meléndez defeated veteran politician Jacqueline Faría and a number of grassroots challengers to claim the important Libertador municipality (central Caracas) candidacy.
The candidates for the remaining 334 mayoralties are due to be announced at a later stage, with establishment figures expected to dominate.
Government sources reported a 3.5 million turnout in Sunday’s primaries, in which non-PSUV members were also able to vote. Voting centres reported long lines and wait times across the country, with some voters still in line after midnight. Party officials claimed that a reduced logistical operation from electoral authorities led to a slower process.
The PSUV claims to have eight million members and won 4.3 million votes in December's National Assembly election. The ruling party held its first primary process in several years, having previously come under fire for its top-down selection of electoral candidates.
The 23 governorships and 335 mayoralties, as well as more than 30,000 regional legislators and local councilor seats, are up for grabs in November’s mega-elections. PSUV legislator and councilor candidates will continue to be dictated by the national leadership.
Candidates can be registered until September 5, while campaigning kicks off on October 28. The PSUV currently holds 19 governorships and 305 mayoralties and expects a similarly strong showing in November.
Violence and claims of irregularities
Sunday’s primary elections were marred by denouncements of localized violence and other accusations of irregularities.
Social media users posted videos of fistfights and violent confrontations between competing PSUV factions, particularly in Zulia, Guárico, Lara, Mérida and Táchira states. There were additional complaints of incumbents buying votes and pressuring public sector workers in Aragua, Monagas, Sucre and Miranda states.
Early reports of “serious violence” in the flagship El Maizal Commune in Lara state, where prominent communard Ángel Prado challenged PSUV establishment figures for the mayoralty candidature, also spread quickly on social media. Local communards reported that they were being denied entry to some voting centers, with some injured in confrontations.
A number of PSUV militants also expressed their dissatisfaction at the process, with William Gomez, mayor of Bolivar municipality in Táchira state, telling press that “They [national and regional PSUV leaders] overstepped the mark with their power groups which wanted to push yes-men candidates.”
Equally, community media outlet Tatuy TV accused high-ranking officials of using the primaries to “distract” from crucial national issues such as “paralyzing” fuel shortages or the upcoming introduction of “anti-worker” Special Economic Zones.
“Here in Torres [Lara state municipality] we estimate that they [the PSUV] used more than 20,000 liters of fuel distributed between the different candidates’ need and [voter] mobilization, [as well as spending] an average $3000 per leading candidate for renting speakers, propaganda, electrical materials, sporting implements, food, etc,” wrote student leader Josue Medina. Likewise, a number of fuel stations were opened especially for the protector’s supporters in Mérida state, causing anger in the wider population.
APR & right-wing parties select their candidates
Simultaneously with the high-profile PSUV process, a range of other political blocs have also been carrying out democratic consultations to select candidates this past week.
Competitors’ efforts have largely been belittled by the PSUV, which has claimed that “the PSUV is the only party in Venezuela to use democracy in electing candidates.” State media outlets have also failed to cover primary processes in rival political forces.
The Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR), which will be fielding independent candidates on the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) ticket, has been holding popular assemblies in a range of localities and its affiliated party organizations have held internal branch votes to select candidates. The APR will run a complete list of alternative candidates across the country, including Eduardo Samán for Caracas’ Libertador mayoralty. Samán lost to PSUV candidate Érika Farías in 2017.
Likewise, opposition groups will be holding primary elections organized by the National Electoral Council (CNE) in some states, including Táchira and Nueva Esparta, as part of efforts to unify the diverse fractions which have already confirmed their participation.
The CNE has authorized 42 national and 64 regional political parties to take part in November in one of the most diverse ballots in the country’s recent history. Some 250,000 new voters have been registered as part of efforts to boost declining participation rates.
[UPDATE] On Monday evening, the PSUV leadership announced a last-minute modification in party electoral rules paving the way for candidates’ victories to be overturned following a “review.” The national leadership will take “wider conditions into account,” including denouncements of moral and ethical irregularities in campaigning as well as competing candidate proposals from the PSUV’s electoral allies in the Great Patriotic Pole (GPPSB).
The “review” is to be applied for both governor and mayor candidatures won by a less-than-10% margin, such as in the Apure, Aragua, Bolívar, Monagas, Nueva Esparta, Sucre and Trujillo governor candidacy races, in many of which incumbents lost by small margins. The criteria wto determine the victors in cases of “reviews” and the timescale for decisions were not revealed. Nonetheless, Maduro had previously announced that all PSUV candidates are due to be sworn in on Thursday.
The PSUV also announced that the communard Ángel Prado had won the candidacy for Simón Planas municipality in Lara state by a sufficient margin to not be subject to a “review.”