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Venezuelan Socialist Party Closes Five-Month Congress, Prepares for Primaries

Mérida, April 26th 2010 ( – The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) concluded its five-month extraordinary congress on Sunday with the approval of highly anticipated party principles and statutes, just in time for this Sunday’s primaries in which millions of PSUV members will choose parliamentary candidates to run against a newly united opposition platform called the “Democratic Alternative” in September.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is also president of the PSUV, said the newly approved party documents constitute “a truly revolutionary code of conduct of obligatory fulfillment,” since they were produced through a nation-wide process of deliberation and reflect the ideals of 21st Century Socialism.

“These principles were made neither by intellectuals nor by an elite, but by the people themselves and the party base. We are activating a distinct way of doing politics,” Chavez said in his closing speech. “Now, all of us should hold tight to those principles; they should guide our everyday lives,” he said.

The principles include solidarity, inclusiveness, respect for others’ opinions, protection of the environment, national identity, a commitment to building a new socialist system, and the elimination of imperialist capitalism.

Party members should be dedicated to their own development, education, and personal growth, while acting in their communities and for the benefit of “the great majority, the dispossessed, disabled people, women, indigenous peoples, and all who were excluded for so many years,” Chavez said.

The president also called on the party to be “the standard bearer in the fight against corruption” both within and outside of its ranks. He created a commission to set up a disciplinary tribunal whose directors will be appointed by national party executives.

“Lies, manipulation, corruption, bad habits, environmental destruction, none of this fits among us. We are a socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist party,” said Chavez.

The 772 delegates to the party congress were elected in a nation-wide vote last November, in which the two and a half million most active members of the party, out of a total of seven million members, were eligible to vote.

A central theme of debates during the congress was how much power would be conferred to national party leaders and regional vice presidents, and to what extent decisions would be made from the ground up, with direct participation from local activists.  

An organizational shift that began last year, and which was consolidated during the congress, was to turn the original 300-person party “battalions” into even more local “patrols” made up of 10-30 party members who operate in their communities and workplaces.

On Sunday, Chavez explained that according to the new party statutes, “the socialist patrols are the basic and primary cellular component of the party. They are linked to the popular forms of organization and power and they constitute the fundamental basis of the network of articulation, social policy, and the ideological formation system of the PSUV.” 

Congress delegates also established the mechanism for selecting candidates for this year’s National Assembly elections, scheduled for September 26th. The PSUV primaries will take place this Sunday, and all of the party’s registered members will be eligible to vote for nearly 4,000 candidates, each of whom will be elected by a simple majority vote.

Chavez warned the top party officials, especially ones who serve in powerful government posts such as the ministries and state governor offices, to refrain from campaigning for or against candidates at the local level. “The party base should be the ones who decide,” he said.

Also during the congress, 14 working commissions were set up to craft the party agenda around distinct issues of national importance. The final version of the principles and statutes has yet to be released to the public.  

The relatively young PSUV was founded shortly after Chavez’s re-election to a second presidential term in late 2006. Chavez called on all pro-revolutionary parties to unite into one organization described as “anti-capitalist,” “socialist,” and “internationalist.”

The PSUV is the only party to hold nationally monitored primaries to choose its candidates for local, regional, and national public office, an indication of the party’s effort to set itself apart from the older opposition parties that still adhere to the country’s traditional, top-down political culture.

However, internal quarrels over party procedures have repeatedly postponed consensus and resulted in frequently changing, ambiguous rules and regulations, provoking disillusionment among the party rank and file. National public opinion polls indicate support for the PSUV hovers in the low to mid-thirtieth percentile, even while public support for President Chavez remains consistently above 60%. 

Despite its low popularity compared to the president, the PSUV is still the most popular party nation-wide, with opposition parties such as Democratic Action (Accion Democratica) and COPEI garnering 5.3% and 2.2% support, respectively.

Democratic Action, COPEI, and several other opposition parties agreed to unite into a single electoral platform for this year’s parliamentary elections. The platform is called the “Democratic Alternative” and is estimated to represent more than 25% of the electorate.

The Democratic Alternative nominated the majority of its candidates via consensus among top party officials. It also held unmonitored primary elections on Sunday in fifteen parliamentary districts, out of a total of 87 districts, according to opposition-aligned television news stations. 

News reports indicate a turnout of less than 10% in the opposition primaries, a total of 360,000 people, according to local news reports. Miranda, Zulia, and Carabobo states saw the highest voter turnout, with 24%, 14% and 9%, respectively.

Democratic Alternative leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, said the upcoming electoral campaigns will “give a signal of how Venezuelan politics could be a place where very different people can understand each other while respecting the rules.”

In Sunday’s primaries, the opposition “demonstrated that we can elect candidates in unity and this motivates people to participate... people who want change, who want to participate, who want to overcome the fear, recuperate their freedom and for all of us to prosper,” said Aveledo.

President Chavez said that despite the low turnout at the opposition primaries, the PSUV can expect a tough campaign in the coming months. “The battle is going to be rough, and we are going to give an example by bringing an end to internal disputes,” said the president.

Published on Apr 26th 2010 at 5.59pm