Elections on April 14, but Who’s the Opposition’s Candidate?

David Smilde

Yesterday the National Electoral Council announced that elections would be held on April 14. The official campaign would run from April 2 to April 11. Inscription of candidates will take place in the coming days.

The General Secretary of the opposition coalition (MUD) Ramón Guillermo Aveledo said that they had unanimously agreed that they would go to elections on a unified ticket and were asking Henrique Capriles Radonski to be their candidate. He said “we understand perfectly that there is not equality of conditions and there will be incumbent’s advantage. The regime wants to impose itself because it doesn’t trust the Venezuelan people.”

Capriles quickly responded by Twitter, thanking the MUD for the nomination and saying that he was analyzing the CNE’s call to elections and would announce his decision in the coming hours. However, by this writing (Sunday morning) he still has not made an announcement. Capriles reacted strongly against the Supreme Justice Tribunal’s decision on Friday that Maduro could run for president as president (more on this below). He is also apparently not happy that he had received so many criticisms and challenges in recent weeks from within the MUD.

Opposition deputies did not attend the special session of the National Assembly called to swear in Maduro. In a rambling press release they pointed to the TSJ’s decision as well as statements by Defense Minister Diego Molero suggesting they would be supporting Maduro’s candidacy (watch video here). In my view, the optics of the opposition’s move were not good, making them look like they were playing politics about an abstract legal decision on the day of Chávez’s funeral.

However, there is a real issue here. Constitutional scholar Jose Ignacio Hernandez agreed with most of the TSJ’s interpretation except for one key aspect, they did not refer to Article 57 of the Electoral Law. He says “according to this norm, and in principle, officials cannot be nominated for elected office without temporarily removing themselves from exercising office. In 2006 in two separate decisions, one of them by the constitutional committee of the TSJ, said it was said that only in cases of reelection did this obligation not apply. So for example in the 2012 elections Capriles had to temporarily separate himself from the office of governor to run for president, but did not have to in order to be reelected governor.

I think the opposition is clearly right on this. However, I also think it would be a tremendous political mistake for the opposition not to run. In the view of average Venezuelans it will not seem at all odd that Maduro is running for president from the presidency and their withdrawing will simply look like they are not running because they think they will lose. As I told AP, this election should be about showing the country they have arguments, ideas and a passion for their country. That would put them in position as a viable option in the future. 

That said, I think Capriles or another opposition candidate should run a different campaign than they did in 2012. Running as the uncandidate, as a can-do unifier like he did in 2012 is not going to have much impact in a short campaign. An opposition candidate should come out with much more rhetoric, with concrete criticisms of the government’s positions and actions, and posing a clear alternative that will stick with people and that they can think about over the coming months and years.