Caracas, February 13th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The current Governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles Radonski, has come first in the Venezuelan opposition’s primary elections and will be the official candidate for the rightwing Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) in this year’s presidential elections, confirmed the country’s opposition earlier today.
Supporters of the opposition MUD bloc took to the country’s polling stations yesterday in order to choose a candidate to face incumbent president, Hugo Chavez Frias, in the October elections later this year. Although the official results of the elections have yet to be verified, spokespeople for the opposition claim that Capriles has taken first place in yesterday’s primaries in a landslide victory, shoring up over 62% of the vote and with over 1,806,800 citizens having cast their ballots in favour of the Caracas-born attorney.
“There is no country that has had a process like this, with so much participation,” said Capriles to reporters after the announcement of the results.
Preliminary figures currently place fellow opposition candidate, Pablo Perez, in second place, behind Radonski with just over 867,600 votes (29.8%). In comments made to opposition press, the president of the MUD’s Primary Elections Committee, Teresa Albanes, stated that the opposition had really “surprised itself,” with the levels of voter turnout and that the results had totally “exceeded expectations”.
Due to the existence of such a wide margin between the first and second candidates, yesterday’s election’s have been celebrated as a win for Justice First’s Radonski, with no dramatic change in results expected before his official announcement as winner this coming Tuesday.
Although the opposition has lauded voter turnout in the primaries as a triumph, other observers have pointed out that, according to the statistics given by Albanes, only 16% of registered voters actually participated in the elections - falling below the 20% achieved by the opposition during their 2004 drive for signatures in support of a presidential recall.
CNE and accusations of fraud
Pronouncements by the MUD with regards to voter participation in the primaries have given way to widespread criticism from a number of activists involved in Venezuela’s popular movement, who have dubbed the opposition’s assertions that over 3 million citizens voted in the elections as a mathematical impossibility.
In a photo entitled “the MUD’s great fraud” currently being circulated on the social networking site Facebook, activists claim that the maximum amount of votes that the opposition could have attained, given the amount of voting machines they used and a minimum voting time per person, would be less than half of the 3 million that the MUD are currently claiming.
The strong public outcry incited the Socialist Tide tendency within the country’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) to send a letter to leftist website Aporrea, insisting that the country’s National Electoral Committee (CNE), which had helped run the elections at the request of the MUD, clarify its role in the primaries for the general public.
In comments made at a press conference on Monday night, the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, also expressed his doubts concerning the validity of the results.
“We’re not mathematicians, but suspicions have been roused...the numbers don’t make sense to anyone,” said the president, who added that in order for 3 million people to have voted, each constituent would have had to spend just 1.15 minutes at the voting machines, “and we all know that that’s not the case,” said Cabello.
The CNE has responded to the controversy by clarifying that the body provided technical equipment for the proceedings, but that the MUD was in charge of the nominations, election certificates, voter registration cards and polling station witnesses. In statements, the President of the electoral monitoring body, Tibisay Lucena, confirmed that the CNE had handed 95% of the collected results over to the MUD by 8 pm on Sunday night, but that the institution was not responsible for divulging those results.
“If they permit us to do (an auditory) of the voting cards, like we do in all electoral processes, well, then we will do it, but up until now they haven’t asked us to do so,” said Lucena, adding that “where we do not participate, we cannot corroborate the numbers”.
Lucene explained that the CNE, which is "objective", doesn't intervene in the "diatribes" of political organisations. "Thats not in our authority, we only guarantee that the [voting] activity gets carried out- the transmission of information, the witnesses and so on."
Viewed as being the moderate voice of the MUD, Capriles has vowed to maintain some of the current government’s social programs whilst implementing a much less interventionist economic policy, proclaiming himself to be a fan of the Brazilian development model. As well as being current governor of Miranda state, Capriles was previously Mayor of Caracas’ Baruta district from 2000-2008, during which time he is alleged to have attacked the Cuban embassy at the height of the 2002 illegal coup against the Chavez government. His family owns a series of private media outlets and a chain of home movie theatres.
Following Sunday’s election results, Capriles asserted that he would win the up and coming presidential elections in October.
“I don’t promise, I resolve things, you can’t live off promises but rather reality and facts. Some people love confrontation, division, they think they are heavy weights. If they invite me into to the ring, I’ll step up, but my objective is to “knock out” corruption, violence and unemployment, from the hospitals that don’t work to schooling infrastructure, amongst others,” he said, adding that if each person who voted in the primaries managed to “get another two” voters, then he would win the election with 9 million votes.
In winning the primaries, Capriles beat long-time politician Diego Arria, far right candidate Maria Machado, Pablo Medina and Democratic Action candidate, Pablo Perez. One of the previous candidates, Leopoldo Lopez, dropped out of the race just weeks before the primaries and threw his backing behind Capriles. The Chavez government has welcomed the 39 year old politician to the presidential race.