As the first month of 2018 draws to a close, in a move surprising to some people, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) has used its status as the sovereign power of the Venezuelan people to call presidential elections for the first quarter of the year.
Until now there had been a lack of clarity on the issue of elections in Venezuela, something which can’t be attributed to the government, given that they had confirmed that the presidential elections due to be held in 2018 would take place.
In political circles and across certain sectors of society the prospect of being called back to the polls had raised expectations, and the ANC responded to this on January 23 with its decision. Many people wondered if the elections would be brought forward, with February, March and even April being mentioned as possible dates. In the end, the nation’s assembly took care of the matter when the agreement was reached to call the elections.
The ANC representative Diosdado Cabello made the proposal, making the case for the elections on the basis of the values of peace, sovereignty and independence, values that had been bolstered by the recent municipal and regional elections, as well as the elections for the ANC.
Recently, Cabello, also first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) declared that “at this stage of proceedings we still don’t know whether the opposition are going to take part in the presidential elections”, something that casts added question marks over the issue.
Given that elections need a lot of preparation, logistical planning and organisational effort, the decision to bring them forward has been interpreted in a number of ways. It represents a challenge, and one that reflects the boldness of those who support chavismo, since going back to the polls will give a measure of the movement’s popular support.
Bringing forward the elections has also had an impact among opposition ranks, where there are several challengers, including figures who seemingly have nothing to do with politics such as the business tycoon Lorenzo Mendoz, who, according to a survey by Hinterlaces, receives more support from the opposition rank and file than any official representatives of the opposition.
In a recent poll, 33% of opposition supporters backed his candidacy, ahead of Henry Falcón (18%), María Corina Machado, who seems to be the standard bearer among sectors of the opposition favourable to the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos (11%), Henry Ramos Allup (6%) and Juan Pablo Guanipa (3%), among others.
In a sign of the fragmentation that exists within the forces opposed to the government, 28% of the opposition supporters interviewed said that they wouldn’t vote for any of the aforementioned figures.
As part of the same poll, people were also surveyed on the possibility of the elections being brought forward to February or March this year: based on those who were questioned, 72% of Venezuelans were in favour, 26% were against the move, and 2% didn’t answer.
However, one could question whether, at such short notice, the candidates would be capable of preparing and developing their campaigns, something that takes time and resources, and also whether the electoral authorities, in spite of their obvious experience given that around 23 elections have taken place in recent years, would be able to manage the logistical challenge of working against the clock in order to prepare for the nation going to the polls once again.
In his most recent television show, on Sunday, January 21, the journalist José Vicente Rangel revealed that he had interviewed people from different factions within the opposition about their preferred candidate of choice, and the results showed clear division amongst the opposition, with no standout candidate from any of the traditional parties of the Venezuelan right.
On the other side, among Venezuela’s revolutionary forces, gathered under the banner of the Great Patriotic Pole, there seems to be an agreement to maintain unity and support a single candidate going into the 2018 president elections.
On January 23 Maduro received backing from sympathisers of chavismo and members of the PSUV, who anointed him their preferred candidate during a rally to mark the Democracy Day.
However, in recent days the former ambassador to the United Nations and strongman in the oil industry during the Chávez governments, Rafael Ramírez, demanded primary elections take place within the ranks of the revolutionaries and asked for guarantees that he would be able to put forward his candidacy.
The former Minister for Oil requested that the accusations of alleged corruption be removed and that he be permitted to return to the country to take place in legally binding primaries and launch his campaign to be the chavista candidate, a matter that must be resolved solely by Venezuelans without external interference.
The former ambassador is accused of corruption during his time at the state-owned oil company, the PDVSA, something that remains to be proved, although reports from the Prosecutor General suggest that during his time in the PDVSA over $4 million dollars left the country for an office located in Europe.
“If the president offers me the necessary guarantees, then I will return to the country to follow Chávez’s path, to speak with the party and the leaders, and speak without being censored”, he stated in his demands.
For the moment, the Ramírez case is being used by Western media to escalate their attacks against the Venezuelan government, and is already a key part of the aggressive and permanently hostile media climate that produces insidious disinformation regarding Venezuela, which even fools many of those who are sympathetic towards the Bolivarian Revolution.
While the matter of bringing forward the elections is already a reality, it remains to be seen whether the right-wing opposition forces will hold primaries and go forward with a single candidate towards an election they still aren’t certain they will participate in. This represents a major challenge for the left, in need of the unity called for by its leaders and Maduro himself.
On the other hand, bringing the elections forward also objectively represents a risk for the government, although, at the same time, they will also serve to allow Venezuelans to reaffirm their right to decide their destiny, as Cabello stressed when denouncing the sanctions and aggression against the country.
(Translated by Matthew Rose – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay