Mérida, December 6, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) has announced former Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza as its candidate for the re-run of the Barinas governor election on January 9, 2022.
The new vote comes after Venezuela’s Supreme Court (TSJ) ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) to halt a contested audit of the November 21 results in the region and convene a fresh ballot for governor. Other results in Barinas, including mayoralties, regional legislators and local councillors, were upheld. The PSUV secured 19 of the other 22 governorships in the recent “mega-elections.”
According to the TSJ, Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) candidate Freddy Superlano was leading PSUV incumbent Argenis Chávez by 37.6% to 37.2% at the time, while other candidates’ tallies were not revealed.
Superlano’s apparent victory was annulled after the TSJ announced on November 30 that he had been disqualified to hold public office by the comptroller’s office days before signing up in August. The hard-right politician had previously been barred in 2017 but received a presidential pardon in 2020. The latest disqualification or the causes for it were not made public.
Barinas state has been dominated by Chávez family members continuously since 1999. Argenis Chávez, who resigned from his post and any future candidacy following the TSJ ruling, is former President Hugo Chávez’s younger brother.
Announcing Arreaza’s nomination, President Nicolás Maduro struck an optimistic tone, describing the former diplomat as a “proven, capable and brave man” who is “very honest and with great political morals.” The Venezuelan president added that the decision to rule out the “narco-paramilitary gang of Superlano” offered the people of Barinas a “golden chance” in the repeat vote. For his part, PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello claimed that the January contest constitutes a “fresh start” for the party in the region.
Arreaza, who was married to Hugo Chávez’s daughter Rosinés until 2017, is currently the minister for industry and national production. He has previously held the vice presidency (2013-16) and led a host of other ministerial portfolios.
Ahead of the repeat vote, a number of government projects were announced to improve the region’s battered public services last week, including building 500 meters of drainage works, the reactivation of at least 16 wells, the reparation of three aqueducts and the renovation of the Barinas city water processing plant.
Likewise, authorities unveiled plans to improve local electricity supply and public lighting, as well as cooking and vehicle fuel supply amidst ongoing shortages. Funds are also being directed to recuperate public spaces and address garbage problems.
Additionally, Arreaza revealed plans to reactivate Barinas’ state-run Santa Inés Industrial Complex, which makes machine parts, trucks and tractors, providing new employment opportunities to hundreds of people.
Controversy in other candidate nominations
Ahead of a Monday deadline, competing political forces also geared up for the January re-run.
The US-backed MUD signed up recently-elected regional legislator Sergio Garrido on Monday afternoon after the CNE upheld Freddy Superlano’s disqualification and blocked the coalition’s preferred replacements Aurora Silva (Freddy Superlano’s wife) and former lawmaker Julio César Reyes on Sunday. There were further unconfirmed reports that local MUD mayor Frenchi Díaz and former lawmaker Andrés Eloy Camejo had been barred from running as well.
While electoral authorities offered no explanation for the rulings, Freddy Superlano accused the government of looking to “silence the rebel voice of change which has begun in Barinas.”
Moderate-right factions launched at least two candidates, with national lawmaker Adolfo Superlano (no relation to Freddy) running on the MIN-UNIDAD ticket and former Caracas Mayor Claudio Fermín for SOLUCIONES party on behalf of the Democratic Alliance. Candidate replacements are permitted until December 30.
For its part, the leftwing Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR) was left without a candidate following the disqualification of Aldemaro Sanoja on Tuesday after the CNE deadline to sign up a new candidate expired. Sanoja had successfully headed the coalition's ticket on November 21. The APR has denounced a disproportionate amount of "political" disqualifications against its candidates and has criticized both the PSUV and the MUD in Barinas.
The Carter Center and European Union electoral reports also took aim at candidate barrings last week, with the former stating that they are “the latest example of its [the TSJ’s] interference in the development of the electoral process.”
“The arbitrariness and lack of clarity about the decision-making processes that led to most disqualifications seriously affects the rights of political participation, the latest example being the case of Freddy Superlano in the state of Barinas,” the report stated.
The barring controversies prompted CNE Deputy Rector Francisco Martínez to resign on Sunday, only months after accepting the post. In a public letter, Martínez cited “political disqualifications [and] judicial interventions which hinder and contaminate electoral processes” to justify his decision.
The judicial decisions have also caused a split in the CNE board, with Rector Roberto Picón telling reporters that the body voted three-against-two to block Superlano last week. He claimed to be unaware of the cause of the ineligibility and alleged not to have seen any corresponding paperwork from the comptroller’s office.
Article updated on December 7.