Hugo Pérez Hernaíz and David Smilde
In January of this year, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) selected April 7 as the date when they would choose candidates through internal primaries for the municipal elections. After the death of President Chávez in March, the PSUV decided to hold primaries in May, but again postponed the event as they waited for the National Electoral Council (CNE) to set a new date for the municipal elections.
In June, after discussion within the PSUV and between the PSUV and other pro-government parties, the PSUV discarded primaries in favor of a “unitary method” of candidate selection. As a justification, Diosdado Cabello argued that in the aftermath of Chávez’s death, the PSUV had to avoid splintering: “There are a lot of conspiracies and we now lack the direction of the Comandante Chávez.”
President Maduro explained that “primaries would have left chavismo torn in pieces,” because of the “individualist passions” of some potential candidates that could have been supported “by suspicious powers.” He argued that even though primaries are the selection process stated in the internal rules of the PSUV, and Chávez left clear instructions that they were to be the preferred method, they could not be held within the PSUV until the “carnival democracy of bourgeois culture” is overcome by a “socialist ethics.”
In August, he announced all pro-government mayoral candidates. For the most populous and important municipalities of the country, the government candidates include: Jorge Rodriguez for Distrito Capital; Ernesto Villegas for Caracas; and Miguel Pérez Pirela for Maracaibo. Jorge Rodriguez and Ernesto Villegas are historical pro-government political leaders with strong support from the PSUV bases, but Pérez Pirela, conductor of the state TV show “cayendo y corriendo,” was a surprise for government supporters who instead favored local PSUV leader Henry Ramírez.
The selection of two candidates that have been called the “rock star candidates” by local media also surprised many. They include television host Winston Vallenilla for Baruta and baseball star and reggaeton singer Antonio “El Potro” Álvarez for Sucre. In addition, some of the bases of the PSUV criticized the selections of these and other candidates. Both Vallenilla and Álvarez however are competing in municipalities considered strongly pro-opposition and have little chance of winning.
Luis Vicente León of Datanálisis tweeted that the aim of these candidacies is not necessarily to compete for Baruta and Sucre municipalities, but to try to bite into the opposition’s total national votes. Pro-government political commentator Nicmer Evans believes that there are drawbacks to the strategy: “an electoral process that is based on celebrities [farándula] is something you can do to reach the young people, but it is a strategy that will subtract from the hard votes of chavismo that are centered on a firm ideology.”
There have been some recent signs that the top down “unitary” selection process has produced friction between the PSUV and other smaller parties in the pro-government coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP). On September 3, the Communist Party (PCV) proclaimed its loyalty to the coalition and stated that they agreed with the GPP on “95% of the cases;” however, the PCV stated that it would support 16 “alternative candidates” for mayors.
On September 30, the PCV Secretary General, Oscar Figuera, declared that the party would withdraw its support for 68 mayoral candidates from the GPP coalition due to their alleged links to corruption. It is not clear though from Figuera’s statement if the PCV will be supporting 68 alternative candidates for those posts or simply withdrawing support from the GPP candidates.
During a public GPP meeting on September 24, Diosdado Cabello criticized candidates outside the GPP list who claim to be chavistas, and he urged them not to use chavista symbols in their campaigns. He stated that “those who are with chavismo should be with the PSUV and its allies. Those outside candidates are disrespecting the legacy of the Comandante Chávez.”
The most relevant case of a pro-government outsider candidate is the incumbent mayor of Barinas, Abundio Sánchez, who is running against the GPP candidate and Venezuela’s former ambassador to Cuba, Edgardo Ramírez. Sánchez however has argued that “if Chávez were alive,” and the PSUV had selected its candidates in primaries, that he would be the candidate.
On September 28, in a meeting in Vargas with the Unidades de Batalla Hugo Chávez, the PSUV’s mobilization structure for December 8, Maduro used some very strong language to refer to outsider candidates. He said that “traitors will not escape from the forces of the Revolution, the people will identify and defeat them.” He added that those who had presented their candidacies outside the Revolution had sold their souls to the devil and were backed by “capital from the bourgeoisie, the landowners.”
The opposition, having chosen most but not all of its candidate through primaries last year, criticized the PSUV for its decision to cancel its primaries. Armando Briquet, the campaign coordinator for Capriles, wrote that the PSUV “has finally taken of its mask! After calling for primaries in the party, after calling the pre-candidates to pre-register and postponing the date of the event, they have decided to put a stop to this soap opera the only way the know how: through an inner circle [cogollo] pointing its finger.”
Capriles also contrasted the government’s method of selection with the primaries of the MUD, pointing out that the PSUV candidates had not even been selected by Chávez, but by Maduro himself.