Venezuelan Opposition Candidates Agree to Presidential Primaries

The directors of the opposition NGO Súmate announced that they will organize a primary for the opposition presidential candidates after all.

Caracas,Venezuela, July 8, 2006—Aftermuch back and forth, nine of Venezuela’s12 potential opposition candidates for the presidency have agreed to hold aprimary election on August 13, to find a single “unity” candidate. Theopposition NGO Súmate (Join up) will organize the primary vote. Teodoro Petkoffand Roberto Smith, two of the better known opposition candidates, though,refused to sign on to the primary process.

The decision to hold theprimary is a reversal of what Súmate had announced last week, when they saidthat due to a lack of agreement among opposition candidates no primary could beorganized in time for it to be held before the deadline forregistering presidential candidates. Various opposition candidates, though, especiallyJulio Borges of Primero Justicia(Justice First) and Manuel Rosales, the governor of Venezuela’s largest state, Zulia,pleaded with Súmate to reconsider.

Súmate responded to the pleasby setting a deadline for Thursday, by which opposition candidates would haveto formally agree to participate in the primary, for the group toorganize the vote. Nine candidatessigned up to participate “unequivocally”: Vicente Brito,Julio Borges, Sergio Omar Calderón, Pablo Medina, William Ojeda, ManuelRosales, Cecilia Sosa, Froilán Barrios, and Enrique Tejera París.

Súmate’sdirectors, Alejandro Plaz and Maria Corina Machado made the announcement aboutthe primary during a press conference yesterday. Súmate had previously saidthey would need at least six weeks to mobilize 15,000 volunteers and to printmaterials to carry out the primary vote.

Teodoro Petkoff, who was aMinister during the presidency of Rafael Caldera and who ran as aleft-of-center candidate for President on several other occasions in the 1980’s,rejected Súmate’s deadline, saying that Súmate is “claiming foritself the right to dictate to political sectors and the presidential candidateshow they should behave.” For Petkoff, Súmate acted “unadvisedly, severely,arrogantly, and authoritarian.”

Despite these strong words,Petkoff said that he is still interested in finding agreement with the othercandidates in order to have a single “unity” candidate of the opposition forthe December 3rd presidential election.

Roberto Smith, who also used tobe a Minister under a previous president, Carlos Andrés Perez, and who has beenactively campaigning for the presidency for nearly a year, said he would stayin the race for president until the very end.

Recent opinion polls show that the two strongestcandidates to oppose President Hugo Chavez are Julio Borges and Manuel Rosales, who eachgather around 30% of the vote against Chavez, while Chavez enjoys around 60%support.