United Socialist Party of Venezuela Elects Congress Delegates amidst Debates over Party Direction

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held nation-wide delegate elections on November 15 for its First Extraordinary Congress which will be held over the next several weekends in Caracas.

United Socialist Party members line up to vote in delegate elections on Sunday in Anzoategui (Yelitza Izalla)

Caracas, November 16th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held nation-wide delegate elections on November 15 for its First Extraordinary Congress which will be held over the next several weekends in Caracas.

Up for discussion at the congress are the party’s program, principles, organizational structure and most likely the mechanism for selecting candidates for the national parliamentary elections of 2010.

A total of 7,800 members competed in the elections for 772 delegate places to the congress. Although the PSUV nominally has nearly 7 million members, voting in the delegate elections was open only to the 2,450,377 “active” members of the party who are registered in patrols.

Jorge Rodriguez, the PSUV’s national coordinator who announced the results of the elections on Sunday, did not present official figures of overall member participation in the elections, though informal estimates indicate that between 40-50% of the active membership, or around 1 million people, participated.

While the more conservative sector of the Bolivarian revolution, often referred to as the “endogenous right,” is overwhelmingly dominant in the PSUV, left-wing PSUV activists said they had advanced with the election of a number of respected revolutionary delegates.

Among others, the left-wing activists elected to the congress include: Gonzalo Gomez, one of the founders of the pro-revolution website Aporrea.com and member of the Marea Socialista union current; Nora Castañeda, the head of the Women’s Bank; National Assembly Deputy and economist Jesús Faria; Sergio Sánchez and Lidice Navas from the former Socialist League; Fredy Acevedo from the Revolutionary Marxist Current; and Julio Chavez, the former mayor of Carora who pioneered a process of direct democracy and community budgeting in his municipality.

At the PSUV’s founding congress in early 2008, about 1600 delegates elected the national leadership and adopted a party program that defined the party as “anti-capitalist,” “socialist” and “internationalist.”

Discussion over the party’s constitution and structure were postponed, however, resulting in ad-hoc regional leadership bodies appointed from above by the national leadership, rather than being democratically elected.

Frustration over the lack of democratic structures and spaces for participation has generally lead to a decline in the PSUV’s active membership. Differences of opinion over whether the party should be simply an electoral organisation or a political instrument that can deepen the Bolivarian revolution towards socialism are clearly marked.

The extraordinary congress will serve as a measure of the competing tendencies within the PSUV who are fighting it out to determine which direction the party should take.

Left wing members say they will fight to extend the PSUV’s democratic structures and defend the program adopted at the founding congress against efforts by conservative sectors to overturn the program.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is also the president of the PSUV, voted in the party’s internal elections in the 23 de Enero parish. After he cast his ballot, he revealed that he had voted “overwhelmingly for women,” and noted the importance of the elections.

“It is very important what is happening. There is a good turnout throughout the country, and our party is giving an example of democracy from below,” said Chavez.

With these internal party elections, “we are breaking the culture of elites, fake democracy, where the people were called on [to vote] every five years… The PSUV has to be a motor force of popular power,” he said.

Chavez also called on PSUV members and regional PSUV leadership bodies to debate and discuss with minority parties that support the revolutionary process but are not part of the PSUV, including the Communist Party of Venezuela and Patria Para Todos.

“They decided not to join the PSUV. Well, it is respected that they maintain their own profile, their cadres, hopefully they continue strengthening their ranks,” Chavez said.

Chavez also stressed that the Bolivarian revolution has an important mission to ensure its continuity next year in the upcoming National Assembly elections scheduled for September 2010.

“Next year there is going to be a tough battle. The opposition is doing the math and believes it will win a majority in the National Assembly, but we’re going to give them a knockout in those elections,” he assured.

The latest survey by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) shows support for Chavez remains high at around 62.4%, while support for the PSUV is much lower at 32.3%.

Despite the gap between support for Chavez and support for the PSUV, the PSUV remains the most popular political party in Venezuela with opposition parties trailing far behind. The Democratic Action (Accion Democratica) party enjoys 5.3% support, Justice First (Primero Justicia) 4.4%, A New Era (Un Nuevo Tiempo) 2.5%, COPEI 2.2%, while other smaller parties account for 4.8%.