Mérida, 2nd November 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – With 23 state governorships and 229 positions in local legislative councils at stake, campaigning has officially started for the Venezuelan regional elections on 16 December.
In the election the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which currently holds 17 of Venezuela’s 23 states, will go up against the opposition Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition. Various other political parties are also running candidates, with a total of 135 contenders for the state governor positions.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was re-elected last month, declared yesterday on public television that the PSUV candidates are “a catapult…bigger than the San Francisco Giants,” and expressed his confidence that “the revolution will triumph in the great majority of states in Venezuela”.
Chavez, who is also president of the PSUV, said that while he would support the campaign, “the battlefield is theirs [the candidates]. I have many things to do and I’ll do them to contribute to the great, popular, and patriotic victory of 16 December”.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) also held a press conference, in which it was confirmed that the official campaigning period is six weeks, from 1 November to 13 December, and that 17,421,946 Venezuelans are eligible to vote in the election.
CNE vice president Sandra Oblitas stated the CNE’s hope that the campaign “will be a space for ideas and will allow voters to make their best decision…in awareness, peace and calm, just as we’ve done in every electoral process.”
Although Hugo Chavez won a majority of votes in 22 of Venezuela’s 24 states (including the capital district) in the presidential election, he commands a higher personal popularity than the PSUV party, and many states in the regional election are likely to be close-fought.
Tight contests between the PSUV and MUD could be seen in Miranda, Zulia and Merida states, among others.
In the central Miranda state, former opposition presidential candidate and current Miranda governor Henrique Capriles is facing a challenge from Elias Jaua, who until recently was Venezuelan Vice President. Capriles won slightly less votes in Miranda than Chavez in the presidential election.
During the launch of his re-election bid yesterday, Capriles declared to supporters that the choice in Miranda state was between either “a Miranda for all, without differences or divisions,” or “what we experienced in the past, a political party [the PSUV] that plundered our state”.
He told followers that his campaign message was that “every day my struggle is for the people,” and that to win “all we need is organisation and that people go out and vote”.
Meanwhile Jaua began his campaign by promising that if elected, on his first day as Miranda governor he would emit a decree “to re-establish the state government’s support for the great [social] missions and popular [grassroots] power”.
He also criticised Capriles’ performance as state governor, mentioning the latter’s conflict with Miranda’s fire-fighters over salaries and unpaid bonuses. “We are committed to recovering Miranda from the sectarianism of Justice First,” he added in reference to Capriles’ political party.
In the western state of Zulia, currently run by opposition governor Pablo Perez, who is seeking re-election, the PSUV also claims to be on course to take back the state. As evidence, the PSUV’s candidate, Francisco Arias Cardenas, yesterday highlighted the growth in Hugo Chavez’s support in Zulia in the presidential election, where he won by almost 140,000 votes, or 7%.
The Merida governorship is one which the PSUV are at risk of losing, after Chavez narrowly lost there in the presidential election. The political scenario in the Andean state is further complicated as the opposition candidate, Lester Rodriguez, has faced criticism of his management as mayor of Merida city, where for several months municipal rubbish collection has been largely absent.
Rodriguez launched his state governor bid by declaring that with his election as governor “democracy will win,” and that in the presidential election in Merida “democracy won again, and Castro-communism and the Communal state were rejected”.
The PSUV candidate for Merida, National Assembly (AN) legislator Alexis Ramirez, meanwhile kicked off his campaign with a march through Merida city centre, during which he told Tatuy Community TV that as governor “Merida will continue deepening in socialism, and man’s liberation and emancipation”.
A few days before campaigning began, Ramirez also confirmed the national government was once again to intervene in Merida with a contingency plan to remove the city’s growing rubbish heaps.
The opposition MUD coalition has suffered defections on the eve of the regional election campaign, with four opposition AN deputies leaving the organisation.
One of the deputies, Ricardo Sanchez, explained in a press conference on Wednesday that the four politicians were leaving the coalition due to its internal decision-making mechanisms and “failure” to learn from political errors.
“We don’t want to continue under the tutelage of a political leadership which behaves in an abusive and arbitrary manner,” he said, adding “we don’t want to continue being part of an organisation controlled by small power groups than ally themselves to ensure their bureaucratic positions in the state”.
The MUD’s executive-secretary, Ramon Jose Medina, responded to the walkout by saying “here everyone can express their differences with freedom and respect”. He argued that the parliamentary deputies had never publicly aired their criticisms within the MUD, and put their exit down to “backroom negotiations and personal interests”.