Presidential Candidate Withdraws, Opposition Primaries in Doubt

Independent opposition candidate Teodoro Petkoff announced he would withdraw his candidacy for lack of popular support. Two of the main remaining candidates announced that they will agree amongst themselves who will run. Primary election, scheduled for next week is in doubt.

Caracas, Venezuela, agosto 7, 2006 — It’s one down and two to go in the contest for a unity opposition candidate as ex-guerrilla and ex-minister Teodoro Petkoff withdrew from the presidential contest last Friday, leaving Julio Borges and Manuel Rosales as the two most prominent candidates to fight for first place. This could mean neither primaries nor Súmate are necessary.

Petkoff was a founding member of the Movement for Socialism, Minister for Planning under the Caldera government in the 1990’s, and is considered to have a fierce intellect. But, according to the polls, Venezuelans appear to value neither his experience nor his brains. Maybe his renowned blunt and straight forward manner put them off, or his connection to the failed Caldera presidency. In a recent survey by the polling firm Datos only 5% of Venezuelans felt he was the person to fight current President Hugo Chávez in the December election.

Of the two front runners, Rosales came out on top with 21% and with Borges trailing six points behind, at 15%. Borges is the leader of the party Primero Justicia (Justice First), while Rosales is the current opposition Governer of the State of Zulia, representing his own party, Un Nuevo País (A New Country).

The real winner in the poll, however, were the “undecideds,” with 41% of opposition supporters still unsure who they would prefer to face Chávez, which, theoretically, leaves the race wide open.

Borges seemed upbeat and determined to put on a united front, “I want to be very clear, Primera Justicia is going to be supporting the winning candidate, Julio Borges is going to work more for Rosales if he wins than vice-versa,” he said.

“Rosales is my partner and not my rival and we are working together on the next proposal that will take the country in a better direction. We aren’t fighting one another for a toy, but piecing together the puzzle for a better future for the country. The people must place trust in their leaders,” added Borges.

While displaying the same respect for Borges, Rosales was more forthright and confident. He called on the other hopefuls to unite behind his candidature, due to his performance in the recent Datos poll. “My performance is devastating in all the polls. I think that there is a large majority decision by the people. Along with the friendship and fraternity we must seek, the path of unity and respect that Venezuela demands,” he said.

Things may turn sour for Rosales this week, however. There may be one last hurdle he will not jump, which could force his withdrawal from the campaign. MVR, the governing party of Chávez, has demanded that Rosales resign his post as Zulia Governor prior to running for President, in accordance with a recent Supreme Court ruling which stated that a sitting governor may not exercise his office while running for President. Given that all polls indicate Chávez will win the December election comfortably, whoever he faces, that would likely be too much of a sacrifice for nothing.

He seems defiant for now, though, saying, “I am going to be the presidential candidate without resigning because that is a right given to me by law and by the Constitution. Besides, I’m not going to let them [MVR] use a legal trap to install a governor in Zulia.”

It is now up to the National Electoral Council (CNE) to decide whether he will have to resign his current post or whether he can temporarily step down. The CNE is supposed to come to a decision on this issue this week. If it goes against Rosales, it is likely to increase the already high level of distrust the opposition has for the body.

The CNE will also decide on funding rules and on the use of fingerprint scanning machines. If the CNE decides these machines will be used, it could mean that the opposition will boycott the election.

Meanwhile, the opposition NGO Súmate, which is being investigated for illegally receiving foreign funding, has said that it would suspend the primary election process of the opposition, if the main candidates reach an agreement amongst themselves who should run against Chavez in December.

Súmate has been planning to hold a primary election this coming Sunday, August 13th, to choose among nine opposition presidential hopefuls. “What we have proposed is that if the candidates find some other mechanism and reach an agreement, obviously the primaries will no longer make any sense,” said Maria Corina Machado, the organization’s Vice-President during a press conference today.

Súmate also used the press conference to defend itself against accusations that it illegally transferred foreign funds to pay for its political activities in 2003 to 2006. “Unfortunately, in those regimes where this type of dissidence is not respected, these types of organizations are persecuted. This is what is happening today in Venezuela,” said Machado.