Venezuelan Opposition Group to Promote Primaries

Venezuelan opposition group Sumate announced it will organize primary elections to choose a single opposition candidate for this December’s Presidential Elections.

Caracas, Venezuela, April 27, 2006—Objections from Venezuela’s electoral council not withstanding, the non-governmental organization Súmate says it will hold primaries so that a single opposition candidate can run against incumbent President Húgo Chávez in December’s presidential elections.

“The massive enthusiastic and conscientious participation and of all citizens will allow the journey and process to be successful. Venezuelans and citizens want the primaries to be an example of how they can have clean elections, to be a processes for all Venezuelans, where there are not exclusive lists, but rather inclusive ones, in order to achieve a legitimate leader,” said María Corina Machado, leader of Súmate.

The Venezuelan electoral council (CNE) has rejected Súmate’s participation in any primary process. “It is totally discredited as a political actor to participate in these affairs,” said Oscar Battaglini, one of the five members of the CNE board. He told VTV, the Venezuela state television station, that, in his view, Súmate was an international organization.

Leaders of Súmate are currently on trial for treason for accepting $31,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, a group fully funded by the United States Congress, and, according to the Attorney General, using the money to create a parallel CNE which constitutes soliciting “foreign intervention in the internal political affairs of Venezuela.” The charged stemmed from the group’s involvement in organizing and verifying the signature drive for the recall referendum of Chavez in 2003. It is not immediately clear how the primaries will effect their trial.

The announcement that Súmate was organizing primaries and calling for the CNE not to participate pre-empted the opposition’s long-lobbied for appointment of new members of the CNE, which took place today. Súmate’s position has been that the process by which the new CNE members were chosen was not participatory or transparent. When announcing that Súmate had the capacity of carrying out the primaries, Súmate executive committee member Ricardo Estévez, told Union Radio “[The CNE selection] was a process where there wasn’t any type of citizen participation,” adding that while citizens had the list of potential members, they did not know the criteria by which the potential members were chosen.

CNE members are elected by the National Assembly, which, after an opposition boycott of last December’s election, is now completely controlled by the governing party and its allies.

Yesterday, three presidential candidates held a press conference in Maracaibo to support the idea of a single opposition candidate, though it is unclear if they will accept Súmate’s primary process, which one candidate has already rejected. “Out of this will come a sole candidate which will allow Venezuelans to have a distinct alternative. Besides any personal aspirations and political circumstances this is Venezuela. Because of this we announce that from this process will come the sole candidate of the majority of Venezuelans. The immense hope of the people is to have a new president who drives over better roads, for a better future of the country,” said presidential candidate and governor of Zulia Manuel Rosales. With him were presidential candidates Teodoro Petkoff, a center-left independent, and Julio Borges, of the center-right opposition party Primero Justicia (Justice First).

The candidates said that they intended to meet and come to an agreement with other presidential candidates including Roberto Smith, president of the opposition party Venezuela de Primera, William Ojeda of opposition party Un Solo Pueblo (One Single People), and Cecilia Sosa, former president of the Supreme Court.

As of now, it is unclear how Sumate would enforce the results of the primary.