Caracas, Venezuela, August 27, 2006 —28 candidates will compete in Venezuela’s presidential elections this December. The announcement was made last Friday by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) after the deadline to register to run for president expired at midnight last Thursday night. The Venezuelan comedian known as the “Count of Guácharo” was among the additional candidates to register this week.
According to an announcement by CNE president Tibisay Lucena, last Friday, seven of the presidential hopefuls are women and eight of the candidates are running as independents. The rest are supported by 82 political organizations (including 48 for Manuel Rosales and 24 for Hugo Chavez) and 3 electoral groups.
The high number of presidential candidates for this year’s Venezuelan elections is unprecedented for recent years. 11 candidates ran in 1998, and 3 in 2000.
Lucena announced that this is s sign of the “increase in political participation in Venezuela.”
Many also see the high number of candidates at this early stage as a good sign against the calls for abstention, which part of the opposition continues to make, including the former governing party, Accion Democratica (Democratic Action). Major opposition parties pulled out of last year’s congressional elections just days before the vote, allowing parties in support of Chavez to take all of the seats in the National Assembly.
The high number of candidates also seems to detract from the earlier calls of a united opposition, which many, including the partially US-funded organization Sumate, have pushed for. But most of the opposition remains united behind Zulia state governor, Manuel Rosales, and other current candidates have stated their intention to support the leading opposition candidate as the elections near.
Of the presidential candidates, President Hugo Chavez and Manuel Rosales, who both announced their campaign teams last week, are by far the front-runners. Most polls rank Chavez well ahead, with around 60% of the vote, and Rosales in second with around 30%. The rest of the candidates have not received much attention, except for the comedian Benjamín Rausseo, who registered his candidacy with the CNE last week.
“The Count of Guácharo”
Comedian Benjamín Rausseo, better known in Venezuela as el Conde del Guácharo (the count of Guácharo), is officially running for President of Venezuela, in a move that has been described by some as “scandalous”, “incredulous,” and “amusing.”
Rausseo, 45, a father of five who has been a comedian for over 20 years, arrived to the CNE on Tuesday to officially register as a Presidential Candidate. He came with a donkey and flanked by his Borracho (drunk), Sancocho (stew) and Pechuga (chicken breast) campaign teams , making a joke of Chavez’ electoral campaign organizations.
He may be a comedian, but he says his message is serious. According to El Universal, during his registration at the CNE, he stated that the current administration is the “the sum of past errors plus the errors of the present. For the first time in the republican history of the country we are, in only eight years, worse off than when we started, in this nightmare of unfulfilled promises, very fruitful for the minority, and disappointing for the majority.”
“We don’t have resources,” he stated the same day. “We don’t have machinery, but we have a great will of touring Venezuela so that the candidate that confronts Hugo Chavez has all the strength and all of the magic, of all of the people who want change.”
During a recent interview with the BBC, he stated that he believes himself to be the pendulum between the Rosales and Chavez, and doesn’t believe he is taking votes from either of the two, because he has his own supporters.
“The idea is that there is going to be one candidate and I think that I offer something different from the rest. I symbolize unity, peace, and love between Venezuelans,” He stated recently.
But Rausseo also stated that if the polls are not in his favor, he will stand by his word and support Rosales.
“We are not enemies, we are struggling more than anything else, to make people get out and vote, and if the case is that I have to support him or he has to support me, the important things is that there is going to be a solid candidate, in a monolithic way, electors and candidates for the December 3rd [elections],” said Rausseo.
Rausseo announced that in the coming days he will be introducing his campaign team and his government plan, but in a recent interview with Reuters he hinted of his plans.
He told Reuters that he proposes to manage the country like a company “in which the Venezuelans are the stake-holders” and that he wants to give confidence to the business class, reactivate the tourist industry and favors the creation of medium to large public works projects.
Rausseo’s discourse caters to the business middle-class and the poor, which has been Chavez’ strength since coming to power in 1998.
“My clear message works for the poorest, because I’m from there. I’m not trying to conquer a world that I don’t know. I am a child of the slums,” says Rausseo.
His message also slides between serious and comedic. One of his campaign slogans is papa para todos (grub for all), a take off of the Chavez-supported political party, Patria Para Todos (homeland for all).
“We want peace, happiness, security, and a lot of grub,” says Rausseo.
Rausseo’s message is pretty well-received in some circles, but rumors amongst Chavez supporters have it that Rausseo’s candidacy is just a smokescreen to delegitimize the elections when—they say—the majority of the opposition eventually decides to pull out as the December elections near (enabling the opposition to claim that Chavez could only win against a comedian).
Other unsubstantiated rumors speculate that Rausseo’s candidacy comes at the suggestion of US-backed interests that the opposition find an already well-known and popular candidate without any political experience to break Chavez’ handle on the Venezuelan political system.