Opposition Groups Begin Organizing For December Presidential Election

Opposition groups break into two overlapping camps as they discuss the conditions on which they will run in the upcoming election.

Caracas, Venezuela, February 24, 2006—In the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s recent threat to hold a referendum on extending presidential term limits if the opposition declined to run in the upcoming presidential election, opposition parties have broken into two overlapping camps in declaring their plans for the upcoming election.

One group, which includes Primero Justicia, a libertarian conservative party formed in 1999, which has already announced a candidate to challenge Chávez’s candidacy, has stated its intention to run as in a statement last Wednesday in a statement called “Together for Venezuela.”

The other coalition has put together a list of ten demands that the government must meet before its members will run candidates in the upcoming elections. The best known of its parties is Acción Democrática, which, along with Copei, governed the country in a power-sharing system for 40 years. The left-leaning Izquierda Democratica and Primero Justicia are both members of both the coalitions.

Julio Borges, Presidential Candidate for Primero Justicia, told the AFP that “Together for Venezuela” was to run a single opposition candidate and to “return hope to a country that already knows that neither violence nor abstention are useful paths for the construction of new realities.” The left leaning Causa Radical and Movimiento al Socialismo are also part of this coalition.

Primero Justicia had pulled its candidates out of the parliamentary elections last month days before the election, after three other major parties including Acción Democrática and Copei dropped out of the race. At the time, Borges told Venezuelanalysis.com that the group was deeply split on whether or not to pull out, because, without its coalition groups running and with voter distrust decreasing turnout, it was unlikely to win many seats. But he said that PJ would “absolutely” run a candidate in the presidential election.

Now the party seems to be distancing itself from parties that called for abstention. Borges told the AFP that the people supporting abstention believe that, “if we don’t run candidates in the elections and let President Hugo Chávez run alone, this will delegitimize [the elections], which is an inexcusable thing to do” and which “is declaring yourself in bankruptcy.”

Shortly after the Venezuelan Electoral Council (CNE) conceded to the demands of opposition parties before last December’s parliamentary elections, and an Organization of American States’ announcement said that leaders of opposition parties had confirmed that “the secrecy of the vote in this process will not be violated,” Acción Democrática and Copei dropped out of December’s parliamentary elections and called for abstention.  Within days Primero Justicia followed suit.

For their part, Acción Democrática (AD) has joined together with other parties to set an ultimatum for the government to ensure its participation.

The demands, according to Correo del Caroní, were the election of a new electoral council, a complete manual recount of ballots, a government guarantee of the secrecy of the vote, the prohibition of the transmission of information from the voting machines during the vote, an audit and correction of the electoral registry, the elimination of the use of fingerprint machines, the prohibition of the use of state resources in the electoral campaign by the President and other public functionaries, the electoral council following the guidelines set up for voter registration, airtime on government stations for all candidates, and  the formal invitation of international observers.

Many of these demands, including a guarantee of the secrecy of the vote, the prohibition of the transmission of information from the voting machines during the vote, the elimination of fingerprint machines, equitable airtime, and the presence of international observers, were made and met by the CNE during the past electoral elections before AD, Copei and Primero Justicia dropped out of the race.

Among the more controversial demands was the fingerprint scanners, which opposition groups did not want used because, they said, they feared that they could compromise the secrecy of the ballot. The CNE dismissed these concerns, noting safety procedures which would prevent anyone from having access to both the voting sequence and the matching fingerprints, but eventually conceded to the demand. The opposition withdrew anyway, and low-income service workers, who must rely on the goodwill of their employers for their jobs, were forced to decide whether they were willing to go to work with a conspicuous purple finger showing they had voted, or boycott the election.  

There was a forty-five percent manual recount in the parliamentary elections, rather than the hundred percent currently being demanded by the opposition. The National Assembly is currently seeking input from civil society to put together a new CNE.

In addition to AD and Izquierda Democrática, parties including Polo Democrático, and leftist Bandera Roja were part of the coalition. Copei was present at the presentation of the list of demands, but was not one of the signatories.