Venezuelan Opposition Group Súmate Won’t Organize Primary Vote

The directors of the opposition NGO Súmate announced that they will not organize a primary to help choose a single presidential candidate for the December presidential vote because opposition candidates could not agree on the procedure in time.

Caracas, Venezuela,June 28, 2006—TheVenezuelan opposition NGO Súmate announced yesterday that due to a lack ofagreement among opposition presidential candidates, the group will not havesufficient time to organize a primary as it had intended for early August.Several opposition candidates lamented the decision, while governmentspokespersons argued it was a good move for the opposition and for Venezuela.

Súmate’s spokespersons,Alejandro Plaz and Maria Corina Machado explained that the group was forced tocancel plans for the primary because opposition candidates did not agree intime to participate in a vote to select a single candidate to confrontPresident Chavez in the December 3, 2006 presidential elections. “Súmateannounces to all citizens that it can no longer be held responsible for holdingprimary elections,” said Plaz.

According to Plaz, Súmate wouldneed at least six weeks to prepare such a primary and if the vote was to takeplace in August, when presidential candidates must be registered, then, as oflast Sunday, there was insufficient time to hold the primary. At least 50,000volunteers would have to be mobilized, material produced and distributed, andtechnology developed, said the Súmate representatives.

Despite this decision, Plaz andMachado assured that Súmate would continue its work to make sure that theopposition is united and that the presidential elections will be clean. Súmate“will continue to do everything in its power to promote a platform of nationalunity, for the undeniable democratic struggle for clean elections,” said Plaz.

Practically all oppositioncandidates for president agree that the opposition should nominate a singlecandidate to confront Chavez in the December vote, but they disagree on themethod for choosing such a candidate. Venezuela’s constitution does not requirea run-off vote for the presidency, should no candidate achieve an absolutemajority, which means that if the opposition splits its vote among severalcandidates, Chavez could still win, even if he does not have over 50% of thevote. However, recent opposition polls show that Chavez currently enjoys thesupport of at least 60% of the population.

Venezuelan Vice-President JoséVicente Rangel practically congratulated Súmate, saying that Súmate is, “buryinga corpse, which has been dead for quite some time.” According to Rangel, “thisdecision favors those sectors that want to democratically participate in theelectoral process.”

Similarly, the Minister of Communicationand Information, William Lara, said, “One of the best pieces of news today isthat the non-violent opposition in the country is liberating itself from Súmate,which is a Trojan horse of the Bush administration.” “We are contented because afactor of intervention of the United Statesin Venezuela’sinternal politics has recognized its rejection,” he added.

Súmate, which was the mainorganization behind the mobilization for the August 2004 recall referendumagainst President Chavez, has received several hundred thousand dollars from theUS Agency for International Development andfrom the National Endowment for Democracy, both of which are financed by theU.S. Congress.

Several opposition presidentialcandidates lamented the decision, but blamed their fellow candidates for notsupporting the primary process. Former Supreme Court judge Cecilia Sosa, who isone of the candidates, released a statement saying that her party, theRepublican Federal Party, “strongly condemns the attitude of thosepre-candidates who do not unequivocally support the holding of primaries.”Sosa’s party’s statement went on to say that it would “not support anymechanism for choosing a single candidate that does not correspond to theprinciples of transparency, democracy, and participation…”

Julio Borges, who isa candidate of the conservative Justice First party, issued a statement saying,“I issue a call to all pre-candidates that have stated objections to the methodof primaries that they understand the historical importance of these elections.…I commit myself before the country that we register a single name for thepresidential elections of December.”

Other opposition candidates,such Teodoro Petkoff, who once was a presidential candidate of the partyMovement towards Socialism, have proposed to organize an opinion poll insteadof a primary. “The other mechanisms [for selecting a candidate’] continue theirvalidity and the conversations [with other presidential candidates] areadvancing well,” said Petkoff. “Súmate threw in the towel; its decision is respectable,but if it is necessary to have primaries, if the men that want and have thecapacity to take the reins of the country … cannot reach an agreement [on asingle candidate], then we will have primaries,” he added.

The difference between the twoprocedures boils down to which procedure would favor what kind of candidate. Aprimary vote tends to favor more conservative candidate because only oppositionsupporters would vote. An opinion poll, on the other hand, tends to favor moremoderate candidates because a broader spectrum of citizens would probably beconsulted.

According to Súmate, theprimary needs to take place in the first week of August, two weeks before thedeadline for registering presidential candidates. If organizing the primarytakes six weeks, the deadline for starting the process passed last Sunday.

Oppositon candidates Friolan Barriosand Sergio Omar Calderon, suggested that the primary could be held later, ifall candidates officially register, but then all except the primary winner withdraws.