Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez Advances Towards Elections Without a Rival

Venezuela’s political opposition is traversing a tortuous path for finding a standard bearer to face President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking reelection on December 3rd for a new six year term, and who counts on favorable winds because of the majority support he enjoys in the population, according to surveys.

Caracas (IPS)—Venezuela’s political opposition is traversing a tortuous path for finding a standard bearer to face President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking reelection on December 3rd for a new six year term, and who counts on favorable winds because of the majority support he enjoys in the population, according to surveys.

The head of state and those who support him are like a compact block and with a well defined electoral resolve, since Chavez does not have any rivals in his own field, does not hide the fact that he wants to govern for a long time, and surveys published throughout the year have indicated 55% or more intend to vote for him in a presidential election.

In contrast, his adversaries are divided between those who want to participate in elections and those who prefer to abstain; and between those who accentuate voting conditions, since they distrust the electoral power, and those who prefer to campaign and find better conditions on the way to December.

Lately, the opposition has been divided also into those who want to choose a candidate via primary elections and those who prefer a consensus around the one most favored in surveys or in an analysis of their conditions for confronting Chavez.

Nine of the eleven opposition hopefuls accepted to test themselves in a primary election organized by the group of technocrats, Súmate, which would be scheduled for August 13 and will be open to the entire voting population of the country, of nearly 15 million registered voters.

But there are doubts about the success of these primaries and whether only some tens or a few hundred thousands of voters participate, “because many opposition supporters are not motivated to participate, or they do not like the candidates, or are afraid of being identified as opponents by those who distribute the benefits of the state,” commented Luis Léon, the director of the polling firm Datanalisis to IPS.

The group of nine aspirants that would test themselves under the umbrella of Súmate is headed by Julio Borges, a young lawyer of the center-right party Primero Justicia (Justice First) and by Manuel Rosales, a centrist who is governor of the oil state of Zulia, in the country’s West.

The polling firms Datanalisis, Keller, and Consultores 21, the most recognized of the country, identified between seven and nine percent of voting intention for both Rosales and Borges in their most recent surveys, alternating one with the other.

Other aspirants, who have one percent voting intention or who do not even appear in the surveys are the former social democratic foreign minister Enrique Tejera, the social Christian Omar Calderon, the Chavez dissidents Pablo Medina and William Ojeda, the businessman Andrés Brito, and the union leader Froilan Barrios.

But outside of the primaries are the young businessman Roberto Smith, who is trying not to be identified as an oppositionist and who has between one and two percent of the voting intention, and Teodoro Petkoff, the former leader and ideologue of the Venezuelan left and who also has not reached more than four percent in the surveys.

However, Petkoff, perhaps the best-known of the hopefuls, due to his long political career—he was a guerilla fighter, a communist dissident, and a planning minister in the second government of the social Christian Rafael Caldera (1994-1999)—strongly polemicized with Súmate, accusing it of imposing arbitrary conditions for the primaries.

Súmate tied the selection of a standard bearer with a commitment to fight for electoral conditions it judges to be transparent, but Petkoff accused them of “exercising an authoritarianism like that of Chavez, when its role should be merely technical and the political decisions should be in the hands of the politicians and the candidate.”

Maria Machado, Súmate’s spokesperson—the center of the government’s criticism ever since she was received by President George W. Bush in the White House last year—answered that the primaries “are the majority’s preferred method and the opportunity to demonstrate how one can organize a clean electoral consultation.”

The opposition still doubts that the automated voting system that reigns in the country guarantees the secrecy of the vote or if it permits the addition or changing of electronic votes. Also, it believes that the National Electoral Council is partial because four of its five members are pro-government.

Prior to fixing the date for the opposition vote last week, the three main aspirants, Borges, Rosales, and Petkoff, maintained a pact for finding a single candidate amongst themselves by some method, with the primaries as the last option.

Leon emphasized that “the opposition claims a lot that it is homogenous, perhaps it is only united by its desire to remove Chavez from power, but there are groups from the extreme left to the extreme right with distinct interests, objectives, and agendas.”

A new Chavez victory is outlined on the horizon, “favored by a voting preference of 55% or more, while his opposition combined does not exceed 20% at this moment,” he warned.

Saúl Cabrera, of Consultores 21, coincided in that “the indicator of confidence in Chavez, which profiles the voting intention in his favor, is 54%, while up to 26% trusts in some oppositionist and 24% in no leader.”

Among those who support Chavez, according to Cabrera, 20% are unconditional and the rest carry a load of conditions, while those who support the leaders of the opposition unconditionally merely add up to six percent of those surveyed.

According to Keller’s figures, Chavez’s popularity is at 58%, divided between a clearly political support of 30% and 28% “for transactional reasons,” that is, in order to make off with some privilege of the state.

In Venezuela, in contrast to other countries of Latin America, the clientelistic capacity of the state is very high, commented the pollster Alfredo Keller to IPS, to the extreme point that in his studies of a few years ago over half of those asked considered it to be unfair that they worked as much as they did, since they live in a very rich country.

The surveys of Datanalisis, Keller, and Consultores 21 are conducted in population centers of more than 20,000 inhabitants, in which 80% of the population lives.

Another polling firm, Hinterlaces, which studies the 15 main cities and combines surveying with focus groups, also identified 55% of voting intention in favor of Chavez, while registering seven percent for Rosales, five for Borges, three for Petkoff, two for Smith, and 17% for “someone new.”

“The only candidate who can confront Chavez successfully with some sort of margin of success, according to this study, is an ‘outsider,’ someone outside of the current political scheme and who still has not emerged,” Hinterlaces director Oscar Schemel told IPS.

In his opinion, an ample spectrum of the population, up to 49%, can be located in a “ni-ni” (neither-nor) space, since they like neither Chavez nor the opposition. Among the other half of the country, 33% is clearly Chavista and 16% is oppositional.

On the other hand, Keller maintains that 72% of those surveyed long for the emergence of a leader who can challenge Chavez’s prominence in the management of the country, “which indicates that many Chavistas want a strong and firm opposition leader, and this speaks well of the democratic foundation of Venezuelans.”

Schemel said that in his research the population transfers to this hypothetical leader strengths that encapsulate their values, such as that he be young, humble, comes from below and has suffered, that he has a concrete governing program and is not part of any political extremes.

This search, united by generalized rejection of the government’s management by a majority of those surveyed—above all in areas such as the management of personal security and unemployment—animates oppositionals to maintain themselves in campaign mode, despite the adverse conditions, according to Keller.

As of August there will probably be one or more opposition candidates and it cannot be dismissed that, with a few weeks to the elections, they decide to leave Chavez alone in the contest, if they believe the terms of the competition to be extremely disadvantageous or if an advance in the abstentionist tendency reduces their ability to get votes.

Translated from Spanish by

Original Source: Diario Digital