Manual Rosales Nominated as Venezuela’s Main Opposition Candidate

Nealry all opposition candidates agreed today to support Zulia State governor Manuel Rosales for the upcoming presidential election against President Chavez. A major opposition party, though, is calling for abstention.

Caracas, Venezuela, agosto 9, 2006—Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales will be the main opposition candidate to face current President Hugo Chávez in the presidential elections scheduled for December 3.  Primero Justicia candidate Julio Borges and all other major hopefuls have united behind him.

In his first speech as the unity candidate, Rosales took swipes at Chávez.  He said he would govern Venezuela for all Venezuelans, “Today we open the path of hope, of national reconciliation, of the fight for a better Venezuela,” he said.

The opposition regularly criticizes Chávez for supposedly polarizing Venezuelan society.  Likewise, they criticize his military spending.  Rosales attacked him for that too when he said he would, “exchange warplanes for hospitals, tanks for schools and universities, missiles for preschools.”

He said social policy would dominate his political program with a minimum wage and a direct contribution to the “impoverished middle classes” as the two main “axes”.

Borges urged everyone to get behind Rosales, “For all who love this country, today is the day to put aside personal ambitions and think about the unity of Venezuela.  Mr. Manuel Rosales, count on all of us. I offer my support, the support of my party and that of my generation to you.”

In a recent poll commissioned by the opposition candidates, Rosales performed better than Borges and the others, but until today his candidacy was uncertain.  As governor of Zulia there were doubts that the Constitution would permit him to stand for president without first resigning the governorship.  The National Electoral Council (CNE) removed that problem today when it ruled he would only have to step aside temporarily.

Meanwhile, the opposition NGO Súmate, which was in the process of organizing a primary vote for nominating a single opposition presidential candidate, announced today that the primary is cancelled because all primary participants had agreed to support Rosales. “This is an indisputable achievement of Venezuelan society, which has demanded the unity of the sectors committed to the well-being of the nation and to democracy,” said Súmate Vice-President Maria Corina Machado.

Major Opposition Party Calls for Abstention

However, in a move that questions the unity of the opposition, Acción Democrática (AD – Democratic Action), Venezuela’s largest opposition party in terms of membership, has called for abstention in the December presidential vote and has refused to back any candidate.  AD’s General Secretary, Henry Ramos Allup, said that Rosales, Borges, and other candidates are “like drunks fighting over an empty bottle.”

He said that due to the uncertainty over the electoral process, Venezuela’s foreign policy, and what he calls the self-censorship of the Venezuelan media, the only option is to abstain.

In response, Rosales seemed to be calling on AD to get behind his candidacy when he said, “this is not the time to surrender…this is not the time to stay at home, to be cowardly.  This is the time to change this society.”

AD, however, is divided.  A senior party member and ex-National Assembly Deputy Alfonso Marquina publicly expressed his disagreement with his party’s General Secretary.  He said Chávez must not be allowed to continue without a fight and that Acción Democratica should at least exercise some “democratic resistance”.  He also claimed the abstentionist policy favors the government more than the opposition.

“There are many risks and dangers in Venezuelan society and we can’t be putting out a call to do nothing, we can’t respond pretentiously by staying in our homes while the government continues advancing,” said Marquina.

Chávez is still far ahead of any other opposition candidate in the polls, scoring between 55 and 60% support in recent polls.  Some commentators have said this is the real reason for the Acción Democrática withdrawal.