Venezuelan Opposition Divided as It Seeks to Nominate Candidates

A controversy has broken out inside Venezuela’s largest opposition party, A New Era (UNT), over a lack of democracy in the party’s internal candidate selection process for the upcoming elections. UNT President Omar Barboza, announced that the party had selected candidates for 314 of Venezuela’s 335 municipalities by “consensus.”
UNT President Omar Barboza (El Tiempo)

Caracas, May 16, 2008 ( – A controversy has broken out this week inside Venezuela’s largest opposition party, A New Era (UNT in its Spanish acronym), over a lack of democracy in the party’s internal candidate selection process for the upcoming state and local elections in November.

On Tuesday UNT President Omar Barboza, announced to the media that the party had selected candidates for 314 of Venezuela’s 335 municipalities by “consensus.”

However, in a parallel press conference, UNT member Emilio Graterón, a pre-candidate for the opposition stronghold of Chacao, a wealthy municipality in eastern Caracas, denounced the decision of his party to support the candidacy of Liliana Hernández for Chacao, as the imposition of a “leadership pact.”
Graterón accused an unnamed director of a privately owned television station of being the person who decided Hernández’s candidacy.
“We can’t fall into the trap of using unity as an excuse to impose leadership pacts behind the backs of the people,” he declared.

“I understand that the national leadership of my party has their candidate, I understand that the economic organisations, the media, have their candidate, this is understandable. But I demand that the people of Chacao are allowed to express their voice, and to say, through the exercise of democracy, who they want to be the new mayor of this municipality.”

Hernández assured that she was selected “by the will of the neighbours of Chacao,” based on a “transparent” survey by polling firm, Datos and called on Graterón to maintain unity, “under all circumstances.”

However Graterón, who has the backing of outgoing mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo López, rejected the poll, the results of which he said “are unknown,” and assured his candidacy was “irrevocable.”

Barboza has subsequently accused Graterón of a “lack of maturity,” and said the UNT was working to resolve the dispute.

Barboza also denied reports of two competing factions within the party lead by governor of Zulia Manuel Rosales and Leopoldo López respectively.

However, a May 13 article in El Universal cited an anonymous source as saying the candidacy of Hernández was imposed by, “the finger of Manuel Rosales.”

In March López registered a separate political party with the National Electoral Council (CNE) called Social Democracy according to a report in El Nacional, but Barboza denied rumours that López may leave the UNT, “Leopoldo is not going to leave…we’re all friends with Leopoldo,” he said.

Barboza also affirmed that UNT would support the candidacy of López for Mayor of Greater Caracas, along with Enrique Mendoza, (who played a key role in the 2002 military coup against President Hugo Chavez), as candidate for governor of Miranda. Both have been prohibited from holding public office, by the government’s anticorruption watchdog, Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russián, due to charges relating to the misuse of public funds.

Opposition parties claim the prohibition, which applies to more than four-hundred people, amounts to political persecution and are challenging the ruling in the Supreme Court.

However, Russián denied that the prohibition, which also affects some government supporters as well as members of the opposition, is political, “We must keep watch for the good management of the public wealth,” he explained.

While the opposition is aiming to run a united campaign in the regional elections it is clear that differences and infighting still remain, indicating it will be difficult to decide on a single candidate for each state and municipality.

Although the official electoral campaigning period does not begin until August, banners flyers and posters of rival opposition candidates are on display in cities and towns around the country.

José Manuel Hernández, the Justice First (PJ) candidate for the municipality of El Hatillo, argued “unity does not signify unanimity,” and called on UNT candidate for El Hatillo, Delsa Solórzano to debate him, saying, “Those who are elected must count with the support and consensus of the residents of the municipality.”

Víctor Bolívar, spokesperson for Democratic Action, which is supporting Antonio Ledezma for Mayor of Greater Caracas also said he would not support the “imposition” of López and Mendoza as candidates.

“Rosales can think what he likes, but he has to respect the unity accord. He can’t say that they are candidates of the opposition because it is necessary to wait for ruling of the Supreme Court,” Bolivar added.

A dispute has also emerged between PJ and the UNT over the candidacy of Manuel Rosales for Mayor of Maraciabo, capital of Zulia.

According to Juan Pablo Guanipa, PJ candidate for Maracaibo only 13 percent of the residents of this city want Rosales as mayor. Guanipa argued that Rosales has a more important role to play at a national level and called on him to withdraw his candidacy “in the interests of unity.”

On April 18 PJ also denounced the regional police of Zulia (under Rosales’s mandate), for being implicated in kidnappings and extortion.

Last year a member of PJ was shot and killed in a conflict between rival student groups aligned with PJ and UNT at the University of Zulia.

Meanwhile, Zulia legislative council deputies Betty de Zuleta, José Luis Acosta and Arnoldo Oli denounced Rosales on Monday, for allegedly using public money to fund the electoral campaign of Pablo Pérez, UNT candidate for Zulia state governor.

“We are in the Attorney General’s Office to denounce governor Manuel Rosales for improper use of public money and for the violation of articles 13, 52 and 68 of the Anti-Corruption Law,” Zuleta said.