Venezuela poised to hold critical municipal polls
December 11, 2017
On 7 December, the formal campaign period ahead of Venezuela’s 10 December municipal elections ended.
Significance: The municipal elections come despite the ongoing political crisis in the country marked by the refusal by the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) main opposition coalition to recognise the national constituent assembly (ANC) convened by the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) government led by President Nicolás Maduro earlier this year, and the Maduro government’s refusal to accept the authority of the MUD-controlled national assembly. The MUD initially mooted boycotting the municipal elections in protest at the questioned regional election process staged in October and the Maduro government’s failure to engage in a meaningful dialogue to find a negotiated solution to the crisis. Since then the government and the MUD have re-established an internationally sponsored dialogue table in Dominican Republic (DR), which has produced some tentative progress. The concern is that a poor result for the MUD in another ostensibly uneven electoral contest could harden the MUD’s position and scupper the chances of success for the dialogue.
Venezuelan voters are called on to elect new municipal authorities in the country’s 335 municipalities and a new governor of Zulia state. The Zulia election comes after the MUD candidate who won this governorship in the October regional polls, Juan Pablo Guanipa, was not allowed to be sworn-in as governor-elect by the PSUV-controlled Zulia state legislature, leading the ANC to order the staging of new elections.
The campaigning ahead of the municipals has been marked by the indecision of the MUD’s constitutive parties as to whether to participate or boycott the polls. Three of the coalition’s largest parties (Acción Democrática [AD], Voluntad Popular [VP], and Primero Justicia [PJ]) have decided to boycott the municipals. But Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and other smaller parties and individual candidates have chosen to take part on the grounds that not doing so would only result in the PSUV capturing power all over the country.
The opposition’s chances of success have also been undermined by the recent changes to electoral rules introduced by the PSUV-aligned national electoral council (CNE), which has disqualified some MUD candidates and has not allowed MUD parties to present candidates as MUD candidates in official ballot boxes but under their individual party logos. Moreover, opposition candidates have not been given any airtime in state-owned media outlets, such the national TV channel VTV, which has largely been dedicated to broadcasting PSUV party rallies.
The PSUV party leadership has said that it expects to secure a sweeping victory in the municipals that will help it to consolidate its grip on power and weaken the MUD. In one of the many closing campaign rallies staged yesterday the PSUV’s vice president, Diosdado Cabello, called on PSUV supporters to ensure victory in all municipalities and in the Zulia gubernatorial election, to oust the opposition from any position of power.
Opposition members who are taking part in the election have called on MUD supporters to come out and vote so that the coalition can retain control of some of its bastions. Yon Goicoechea, a VP member who is standing for election in the Caracas municipality of El Hatillo, even if his party is boycotting the elections, urged MUD supporters to vote for him to help the VP retain the seat. Meanwhile in Zulia, the UNT has called on MUD supporters to back the gubernatorial bid of former governor Manuel Rosales (2000-2008), who controversially decided to run in the election rather than continuing to support the PJ’s Guanipa claim to the governorship.
Looking Ahead: Defeats for opposition candidates in some of its bastions could lead the MUD once again to revise its stance over the dialogue with the Maduro government. In particular, a defeat for Rosales in Zulia could lead UNT to align itself more closely with the other main MUD parties in their standoff with the Maduro government. Conversely, victory for Rosales, who has been dubbed a “traitor” by some in the MUD for agreeing to take part in the Zulia election re-run, could lead to increased divisions within the MUD.
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