Mérida, July 16, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– The President of the Venezuelan opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era – UNT), Omar Barboza, announced Tuesday that a coalition of opposition parties has selected unified candidates for governor in seven of Venezuela’s 23 states. However, only four of the nine parties in the coalition were present during the announcements, indicating internal strife.
“There are seven definitive consensuses in the states of Apure, Carabobo, Nueva Esparta, Sucre, Trujillo, Vargas, and Zulia,” Barboza announced during a press conference that was attended by representatives from Primero Justicia (PJ), Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), the Christian Democrats (COPEI), and UNT.
Dialogues among party leaders are still underway to select the candidates for governor in three states, while voter opinion polls will soon determine the candidates in 11 other states where opposition parties have nominated rival pre-candidates, Barboza explained.
The UNT leader assured that before the formal candidate inscription process begins on August 5th, the coalition will announce several more candidates for governor and at least 100 candidates for mayor.
Barboza also pointed out the “special case” of Yaracuy state, where several opposition parties support the ex-Governor Eduardo Lapi, who has been in hiding since he escaped from jail in 2007. Lapi, referred to by some opposition leaders as a “political refugee,” had been detained on money laundering charges.
On Sunday, the president of COPEI, Luis Ignacio Planas, said publicly that opposition leaders had really only reached consensus on four candidates, and that those selected so far would “not necessarily” be the final candidates of the opposition.
The declarations reflect COPEI’s rejection of two candidates who are supported by the opposition party Acción Democrática (AD), one of the coalition members that did not attend the press conference Tuesday.
In response, AD secretary Bernarbé Gutiérrez called COPEI’s assertions “irresponsible and strange,” and claimed that consensus had actually been reached in nine states. Another AD secretary accused COPEI of contradicting its original pledge of support for all nine candidates.
The coordinator of Primero Justicia, Julio Borges, dismissed the complaints of AD leaders as “the noise of those who are losing and who feel they have no chance of crowning themselves the unitary candidates.”
Borges called for opposition leaders to project a calm, confident public image “although we recognize that it has not been easy to solve the puzzle of unity and that some leaders have been divulging to public opinion a climate of uncertainty.”
Leaders of AD and La Causa R (The Radical Cause), also a opposition coalition member, say they support the candidates announced by Barboza Tuesday, but did not attend the press conference because they object to the manner in which the candidates were selected.
The general secretary of La Causa R, Daniel Santono, said the party plans to unilaterally support 17 candidates for governor, and urged other opposition leaders to support the emerging leaders in each region of the country.
When the coalition of opposition parties was formed last January 23rd, the methods for selecting candidates were prioritized as consensus among party leaders first, voter opinion polls second, and internal party elections third.
So far, no opposition party has held internal elections to select its candidates, creating controversy within some parties. When Barboza announced that more than 300 candidates for mayor had been chosen by “consensus” last May, a pre-candidate in the wealthy Caracas district of Chacao, Emilio Graterón, objected that his opponent, who was favored in private opinion polls, had been chosen by “leadership pacts” rather than “democracy.”
However, in the opinion of Pablo Pérez, the coalition’s candidate for governor of Zulia, the methods chosen by the coalition are democratic. “It has not been an easy process because here there is internal democracy, discussion and dialogue exist,” said Pérez Tuesday.
Pérez urged opposition parties to deepen “municipalization,” because regional and local elections reflect “true citizen participation.”
The selection of unified opposition candidates has been complicated by the controversial disqualifications of some candidates by Venezuela’s top anti-corruption official, the General Comptroller Clodosbaldo Russián.
UNT party member Leopoldo López, one of the few people disqualified for more than one account of corruption by the comptroller, refuses to recognize the sanctions and continues his pre-candidacy for mayor of Caracas, competing with the candidate from fellow coalition party Alianza Bravo Pueblo, Antonio Ledezma, who is also a former Mayor of Caracas.
López has been disqualified because of his links to an illicit donation of state oil company funds to his former political party Primero Justicia, and again for his misuse of municipal resources in support of a group of rebel military officers linked to political murders.
Supreme Court to Review Candidate Disqualifications
To resolve such disputes, opposition candidates are awaiting the decision of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on whether the disqualifications of 272 public officials are constitutional. After 3,000 opposition activists marched Sunday to demand a constitutional revision of the disqualifications, Supreme Court Judge Rondón Haaz proposed the partial nullification of sections of the comptroller law which permit the measures.
Chief Justice Luisa Estela Morales said Tuesday that Judge Haaz’s proposal is under review, and the Supreme Court will announce a final decision on the matter in due time. In the meantime, Morales urged politicians and journalists not to interpret the Supreme Court’s review of the disqualifications as a judgment for or against them.