Opposition Candidate Chosen for Venezuelan Presidential Election, Candidate Claims Electoral Irregularity
February 14, 2012
By: Rebecca Aaberg

On February 12, BBC reported that voters chose Henrique Capriles Radonski in the first ever primary election for Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity or MUD), an opposition party., He will represent MUD in the October 2012 Venezuelan presidential election, running against President Hugo Chávez. Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, received 62 percent of the vote, and runner-up Pablo Pérez received 27.7 percent, TeleSUR reported.  According to Voice of America, the opposition in Venezuela has been highly fragmented, and the 2.9 million participants were “a small percentage of the country’s 18 million registered voters.”  Considered politically moderate, Capriles speaks a “message of inclusivity and unity, hoping that he can appeal to all members of the political spectrum.”

Capriles stated that he intends to focus on “non-ideological concerns such as crime, unemployment, and social services” in the upcoming election. According to Reuters, while Capriles does support “dismantling Chávez’s statist economic policies, such as currency controls,” he also represents a “socially conscious policy model.”  Capriles cited health clinics and food programs in Miranda state as evidence that he “will continue the fight against poverty, only with better management,” the New York Times reported.  Capriles identifies himself as “market-friendly,” but has denied that MUD plans to privatize the state-owned oil company PDVSA, from which Venezuela derives most of its wealth. The BBC recognized Venezuela’s economic failure as an opportunity for Capriles to identify with voters who “are bracing themselves for the introduction of price controls which were announced at the end of last year.”

Rafael Velasquez, candidate for mayor of Yaracuy, claimed that irregularities existed in the primary elections, leading to the seizure of voter lists by the Venezuelan Supreme Court.  CNN reported that members of the opposition attempted “to stop officers from confiscating election documents including voter lists,” which the Supreme Court asked be handed in to electoral authorities within 24 hours.  Opposition leader Pablo Medina, governor of Bolivar state, accused Chávez of using the case to intimidate voters who participated in the primary.  Opposition leader Ramón Guillermo Aveledo called the Supreme Court’s decision to support seizure of voter lists “absurd, unconstitutional, and disproportionate.”  Voters’ fears of government reprisal are grounded in events from the 2003 Tascon List, when names of petitioners opposing Chávez were released.  According to CNN, the petitioners whose signatures were posted on a website “were subsequently targeted by the Chávez government.”

Capriles has a long history of opposition to the Chávez government.  TeleSUR reported that in 1998 he was accused of receiving funds from PDVSA (before its nationalization) in order to create his Justice First party.  In 2004, he was accused by the national District Attorney’s office of fraud and corruption during his term as mayor of one of the municipal areas of Caracas.  Capriles also participated in the attempted ousting of Chávez in 2002, acting as an “aggressor” in front of the Cuban embassy.

President Hugo Chávez responded to the opposition’s primary elections by calling candidates “representatives of US ‘imperialism’ who would dismantle socialist reforms.”  He also stated that he will accept the result of October’s election if defeated.  Chávez enjoys considerable support in Venezuela and is especially popular among the poor and employees of the government and state-owned companies.  Since his election in 1999, Chávez has implemented a vast network of social programs, using money from state-controlled oil sales.  His critics point to “high crime rates, food shortages, corruption, a failure to deliver on promises, and the president’s almost total control over most aspects of government and civic life,” the New York Times reported.

Although Chávez is the favorite for October’s election, one-third of the electorate is still undecided, the New York Times reported. BBC reported that MUD gained 67 of 165 open seats during the 2011 legislative election, leaving Chávez’s party with fewer than two-thirds seats, the necessary percentage for constitutional changes.  Chávez won 63 percent of the vote in the 2006 presidential election.

For previous news on Venezuela, please see:
ISC/CD Member Carlos Ponce Discusses Venezuela’s Political Landscape 

BBC – Venezuela Opposition Aims for Rich Electoral Reward

BBC – Venezuela Opposition: Row Erupts Over Voter List

BBC – Venezuela Polls: Henrique Capriles to Challenge Chávez

CNN – Political Crisis Erupts in Venezuela After Primary Elections

New York Times – Opposition Voters in Venezuela Pick a Challenger for Chávez

Reuters - UPDATE 6-Venezuela’s Capriles to Run Against Socialist Chávez

TeleSUR – Henrique Capriles Radonski será el candidato de la oposición en Venezuela

Voice of America – Venezuela Chooses Chávez Challenger