Is Venezuela’s Opposition Finally Unifying?

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

On July 22, Jesús Torrealba, executive secretary of the opposition coalition organization Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), made a late night announcement that opposition parties have finally agreed on a tarjeta única, a unified ticket. In other words, the MUD’s candidates for the December legislative elections will all be shown on the ballot under a single ticket with the same colors and symbols.

Torrealba said that the parties of the MUD had come to a number of “strategic agreements,” such as the holding of primaries for choosing candidates for all future elections (including presidential and regional elections). One long-term point of contention has been the desire of smaller, newer parties to go to full primaries while more established parties prefer negotiated agreements.

They also agreed to develop a unified campaign organization for the December legislative elections and future elections.

Torrealba also hinted at the opposition plans if it is able to win the majority of the National Assembly seats in December. The parties have agreed on a legislative agenda which will stress “constitutional mechanisms” to address Venezuela’s crisis, such as pushing for amendments or reforms to the Constitution, a recall referendum against Maduro, and even the calling of a Constitutional Assembly. Paraphrasing the Cuban revolutionary slogan, Torrealba said: “Within the Constitution everything, outside the Constitution, nothing.”

The announcement is a new show of unity by the opposition after its primaries and negotiations to select candidates. However, lingering divisions were still evident even as the announcement was being made.

One full day after the announcement there were still doubts if Leopoldo Lopez’s party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will, hereafter referred to as VP) would join the single ticket or if its candidates would do so under the party’s own ticket with its own images and symbols. In a press conference the next day National Coordinator of VP, Freddy Guevara, finally announced that his party would in fact join the MUD’s ticket.

Before the agreement, Guevara had expressed doubt about the single ticket. “We want to contrast, not only opinions, but also [use] scientific instruments to decide if [the single ticket] is the best option.”

Behind VP’s reticence is its need to assuage its more radical La Salida faction that want to maintain political independence from what they consider the more appeasing policies of the MUD.

According to one media outlet, during the MUD’s meeting to discuss the single ticket option VP’s representatives voiced concerns that the coalition was not doing enough on the issue of political prisoners. After the final announcement by VP that it would indeed agree to go under the MUD’s ticket, Torrealba declared in an interview that the very first task of the new National Assembly after December would be to approve and “amnesty law for all the people that are being persecuted by Maduro’s regime.”

In a direct reference to VP’s position on the issue, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, had declared

Within the opposition there are diverse points of view, but it needs to show unity for the election process…and all is ready except for one political organization, only one organization that doesn’t want to subscribe the single ticket option. Who knows why? What is more important, the interests of that particular organization or the interests of Venezuela?

Several opposition leaders have expressed fears that the MUD’s single ticket could be invalidated by PSUV-controlled institutions. In June the Secretary General of opposition party Acción Democrática, Henry Ramos Allup, declared that a private citizen, allegedly employed by chavista governor of Carabobo Francisco Ameliach, had filed a lawsuit against the single ticket, even before it had been agreed upon. More recently Ramos Allup has said that he believes the lawsuit will not prosper and that there is no legal way the government can invalidate the MUD’s ticket.

Another opposition leader, Stalin González, has said the MUD has a contingency plan if the government were to invalidate its unified ticket.