Selecting Opposition Candidates for Venezuela’s Municipal Elections

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

Given its internal heterogeneity, candidate selection posed a serious challenge right from the beginning for opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). The MUD decided that most of its candidates would be chosen by primaries, but that others would be negotiated among the parties. The primaries were held in February 2012. However, successive postponements of the elections now means that the candidates for the December election were chosen almost two years before the actual election.

In September 2011 the CNE announced a chronogram that divided elections for three levels of government. The presidential election would be October 7, 2012, the gubernatorial elections would be December 16, 2012, and the mayoral elections would be April 24, 2013. Already in 2011 some in the opposition argued that February 2012 was too early for primaries considering the mayoral elections would be more than a year later.

However, events of the following year, most importantly the death of president Hugo Chávez, led the the CNE to change the dates two more times, first pushing back the municipal elections to June 2013, and finally to its current date of December 8. The change in dates has generated debate inside the opposition about whether to repeat at least some of the primaries. However the MUD decided to stick to the candidates selected in February 2012.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of issues related to candidate selection in the some of the most important municipalities (the complete list of the candidates can be found here):

Libertador (Caracas): The MUD candidate is Ismael García, National Assembly deputy for the party PODEMOS, who was elected in the primaries. However García won the MUD primaries by only 400 votes (less that 0.2%) against Antonio Ecarri. Ecarri contested the result and has decided to run for Mayor as an independent. This could divide the opposition vote in an already challenging contest against incumbent Jorge Rodríguez.

Baruta: In the Eastern part of Caracas, Baruta is an opposition stronghold. The current Mayor Gerardo Blyde lost the primaries to President of Baruta’s Municipal Assembly David Uzcátegui. But Uzcátegui is one of the opposition leaders that was “inhabilitado” (striped of political rights) by the Contraloría General de la República, meaning he cannot run for public posts. In July the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ) annulled his inhabilitation and the CNE allowed Uzcátegui to register as a candidate. But there are still doubts about whether the TSJ sentence actually means he can run. If it is decided that is not the case, the MUD has declared it will nominate Blyde. Either Uzcátegui or Blyde will face television personality Winston Vallenilla.

Sucre: Also in the Eastern part of Caracas, Sucre is a very important Municipality for the opposition because it includes Petare, one of the poorest and biggest slums of the city, where current opposition mayor Carlos Ocariz of Primero Justicia has gained a strong foothold. In the 2012 primaries rising star Juan Carlos Caldera was selected to follow in Ocariz’s footsteps, while Ocariz was selected as gubernatorial candidate of Miranda State.

However, after Caldera was show in a video in September 2012 apparently accepting money for access to Henrique Capriles, and after Capriles lost the presidential elections in October, the MUD carried out a two way switch. They decided to have Capriles run for reelection in Miranda, Ocariz run for reelection in Sucre, and stripped Caldera of his candidacy. Ocariz will face baseball star Antonio “el potro” Alvarez.

Maracaibo: Eveling Trejo de Rosales is the MUD candidate for Venezuela’s second city, Maracaibo, chosen not by primaries but by consensus. She runs as the incumbent, originally elected in 2010 to replace her husband, 2006 opposition presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, who went into exile to flee corruptions charges. The local Primero Justicia leader Tomás Guanipa asked the MUD to hold new primaries in July 2013, but the MUD rejected his petition. Unlike Ecarri in Libertador, Guanipa did not register as an independent candidate. Trejo de Rosales will face the television host Miguel Pérez Pirela.

Commentators on the pro-government web page have pointed to the opposition selection process as evidence of the opposition’s internal divisions and contrasted it to the “unity” of the pro-government block. In May, pro-government political commentator Nicmar Evans emphasized the divisions within the MUD and argued that the February 2012 primaries had been held with Chávez still alive and with the belief, by the opposition, that Capriles would be elected President. Now, he argued, the MUD leadership was deaf to the petition of its own basis for new primaries. Maduro, in his view, had established a new methodology for the selection of the government’s candidates and this would endow them with more legitimacy than the MUD candidates.