Caracas, February 20, 2010 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has opted to hold democratic internal elections for its candidates in the upcoming National Assembly elections to be held on September 26.
All seven million registered PSUV members will be eligible to nominate and vote in the internal elections. Nominations will be open over three days from the 4th to 7th of March, followed by a campaigning period from the 24th of April until the 14th of May, and finally the elections, which the National Electoral Council (CNE) will monitor and conduct on May 16.
In those regions where none of the candidates manage to achieve more than 50% of the votes the candidate will be selected, out of the top three pre-candidates, by the national leadership of the PSUV.
The PSUV made the decision last week as part of its four-month-long extraordinary congress, which is in session every weekend until April. Initially the national leadership committee of the PSUV made a proposal that all members would be able to make nominations and that a special commission would then select a list of candidates that would then be presented to President Chavez for final approval.
However, Chavez himself rejected the proposal and insisted that internal democratic elections open to all party members be held, saying “I have confidence in the people, I have confidence in the grassroots, they will not defraud us.”
Reservations have been expressed by some sectors of the party, including some sitting national assembly deputies, with some arguing that governors and mayors with existing support networks will have undue influence on the elections.
However, PSUV leader Freddy Bernal argued that elections open to the entire membership, rather than just those 2.5 million active members registered in “patrols” or party branches, would counter the influence of governors and mayors.
Political analyst Nicmer Evans, told El Tiempo that the internal elections of the PSUV are an “extraordinary opportunity” for the grassroots of the party to evaluate the performance of the current deputies.
“The active and passive membership will decide, but it must also be understood that a renewal of cadres [in the national assembly] is necessary. It is prudent to renew, update and incorporate new cadres,” he argued.
“Any deputy that opts for reelection and has a good record has nothing to fear,” he added.
Chavez insists that it is crucial for the pro-revolution forces to win at least two thirds of the national assembly in order to push forward with the project of building “socialism of the 21st Century” in Venezuela.
National committee member Ana Elisa Osorio said that in order to guarantee at least two-thirds of the national assembly, the PSUV candidates must be “committed revolutionaries.”
In the previous parliamentary elections in 2005 pro-Chavez forces won almost all the seats in the national assembly after the opposition boycotted the vote. However, this time around the U.S. backed opposition has opted to participate in the elections and insists they will run a united campaign.
Venezuela’s Bolivarian constitution adopted by popular referendum in 1999 requires all political parties to hold internal democratic elections for national leadership positions and candidates. However, as yet the PSUV is the only party in Venezuela to have done so.
In this context the PSUV elections pose a challenge to the notoriously divided opposition to hold their own internal elections for candidates, which have traditionally been appointed from above via negotiations between various power groups.
Opposition political parties negotiating through the “Unity Table” have said for the first time that they will hold candidate elections, but only in those electorates where they are unable to reach agreement.
Opposition political parties also face a dilemma over whether to support candidates from a wide variety of parties, since parties are required to receive a certain number of votes in order to maintain electoral registration.
Currently various opposition leaders are individually launching their campaigns via the private media, in order to best position themselves in the negotiations.
Among those opposition leaders who have presented themselves for election are María Corina Machado, head of the U.S.-funded group Sumate, and Enrique Mendoza from the right-wing Christian Democratic party COPEI. Both were signatories to the infamous Carmona Decree, which dissolved all public powers, including the National Assembly and the Supreme Court during the short-lived military coup against Chavez in April 2002.
The latest poll by the Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis (IVAD) found more than 58% of Venezuelans continue to approve of Chavez’s presidency.
The poll also indicated that 32.6% said they would vote for pro-revolution candidates in the national assembly elections, 20.8% for the opposition and an important 33.1% for “independents”.