By Nestor Rojas Mavares (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelans will vote Sunday, October 15th, to elect 23 regional governors, amid the tension generated by President Nicolas Maduro’s warning that winners who do not recognize his controversial Constituent Assembly will not be allowed to take office.
More than 18 million voters are eligible to participate in the regional elections, which are held two and a half months after the end of the protests against the government, which left more than 100 dead between April and July. Venezuela is Cuba’s top political and economic ally.
The opposition has the challenge of reversing the current scenario, in which the ruling party has control of 20 of the 23 governorships.
In the legislative elections in December 2015 the opposition obtained a landslide victory that gave it the majority in the National Assembly (Congress) and turned it into a strong counterweight to the Executive, which then took away its legislative capacity through the Supreme Court.
Sunday’s elections were to be held in late 2016 and the National Electoral Council (CNE) called them for December 10 of this year. However, the Constituent Assembly, which was installed with plenipotentiary powers in August, advanced them to October 15.
The opposition considered from the beginning that the Constituent Assembly is a fraudulent organ, alleging that Maduro did not consult the people if they wanted the activation of that mechanism which would lead to a new constitution.
Although some 40 countries do not recognize the Constituent Assembly, Maduro maintains that it is a sovereign body to which the other powers must subordinate.
On Thursday, Maduro insisted that the governors who are elected must recognize the Constituent Assembly and even swear to it.
“A governor who is not sworn in by the Constituent Assembly will not take office,” he said, adding that “anyone who goes to vote on Sunday will be supporting the Constituent Assembly, who convoked the vote.”
The campaign chief of the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD), Gerardo Blyde, replied that none of the coalition candidates who win will be subordinated to that “fraudulent” assembly.
“None of our governors will be sworn in before the fraudulent Constituent Assembly. These elections do not belong to Maduro, they do not belong to the CNE, who summons this process by law, it’s the Constitution,” he replied.
On Sunday, 11 governors will seek re-election, including seven retired military officers.
In the opposition, the governors of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, and Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, were disqualified and only Henri Falcón will seek another term in the western region of Lara.
Several governors of the ruling party are aware of the possibility they will not continue in their positions, among them Francisco Arias, one of the rebel commanders who participated in the coup attempt of 1992 led by Hugo Chavez. He faces Juan Pablo Guanipa in the western state Zulia.
Likewise, former Defense Minister Jorge García Carneiro will face a tough challenge in the coastal region of Vargas from the young deputy and doctor Jose Manuel Olivares. Jose Vielma must defeat opposition deputy Laidy Gómez to continue as governor in Tachira, in a region that borders Colombia.
The opposition said it expects participation of more than 60 percent of the voters, which will increase their chances, while Chavismo’s #2 man, Diosdado Cabello, predicted that the ruling party will win all the 23 governor posts.
One sector of the opposition had criticized the fact that MUD agreed to take part in the elections, after the protests between April and July, claiming that it betrays the resistance movement in which 123 people died.
The head of the displaced National Assembly, Julio Borges, said that a high participation will unleash a “political earthquake” that will weaken the Government.
“By dawn on Monday, October 16 and seeing that we won 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 of the governor posts and the popular vote, believe me, will be a political earthquake that is irreversible to put the country on the verge of a complete and democratic change,” he said.
The CNE has been the object of criticism for allowing the July 30 elections in which 545 members of a Constituent Assembly were chosen in a controversial vote without opposition.
The electoral body was at the center of the debate after the company Smartmatic, which supplied its IT services, reported that the results of the participation were inflated.
The CNE said at least 8.09 million voters participated, but Smartmatic said the figure was altered by at least one million.
In addition, the opposition denounced that the CNE is imposing last minute relocations of hundreds of polling centers to move up to 400,000 voters from their traditional electoral environment, discouraging participation. The CNE claimed security reasons to move these polling stations, located in areas where the government has little support, noted the opposition.
The Main Regions in Dispute in the Elections in Venezuela
Venezuelans will elect 23 regional governors on Sunday, in a poll that represents a new electoral test for the ruling party and the opposition, dpa reported.
Some 18 million voters are qualified for these elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in late 2016, and in which the opposition will seek to change the governing party hegemony in 20 of the 23 states.
The regions where the electoral struggle is hotly contested are:
– BARINAS: The region of the late President Hugo Chavez has been governed by the ruling party for 18 years and has a symbolic character. One of Chavez’s brothers, Argenis, will defend the political inheritance in the region. This 59-year-old engineer and former deputy minister of Electric Energy aspires to retain for the party the governorship, which was in control of an interim official, after the elected governor, Chavez’s brother Adan, retired to first become the Ministry of Culture and then moved on to the Constituent Assembly. Deputy Freddy Superlano is the opposition candidate.
– MIRANDA: The outgoing governor is opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was disqualified for 15 years, so he could not seek a second re-election or run again for president. The region, with parts of the metropolitan area, rural and coastal in the north, is an opposition stronghold. Former mayor Carlos Ocariz, of the party Primero Justicia de Capriles, seeks to take over as governor. The former Education Minister and head of the government’s minority bench in the National Assembly, Hector Rodriguez, is the candidate of Chavismo.
– CARABOBO: The ruling party has its most extravagant candidate of the campaign, Rafael Lacava, to retain control of the government. A former mayor, Lacava offers shows in his campaign where he dances, jumps, throws himself on the floor and strips himself of the number 10 Venezuelan soccer shirt he wears. This week he rode a donkey to a Caracas television channel for an interview, in order to reject comments that he is moving in luxurious pickup trucks. “They won’t let me in (the channel) with my new fleet brought from Germany (the donkey),” he said. He faces opposition lawyer Alejandro Feo.
– ARAGUA: The government here is in the hands of the ruling party, originally in control of who is now vice president, Tareck El Aissami. His candidate is General Marco Torres, an official who has been the object of criticism and denunciations since he passed through the Ministry of Food, in the face of the shortage of consumer goods in the country. The opposition candidate is deputy Ismael Garcia, a former Chavista, who won the opposition primary.
– LARA: Opponent Henri Falcón will seek re-election. With a management that receives both praise by the opposition and government criticism, Falcon does not hide his presidential aspirations, but he must confirm his popular support in the region. He will face former Defense Minister Carmen Melendez, who has carried out a tough campaign with the full support of President Nicolas Maduro.
– TACHIRA: The ruling governor Jose Vielma, a retired military man, is seeking reelection of a region that is the focus of protests against the government, in addition to its particular problems because it is bordered by Colombia, due to the smuggling of food and gasoline. Vielma faces a growing challenge by Social Democrat deputy Laidy Gomez, who easily won in the opposition primary on September 10th.
– ZULIA: The oil region has Francisco Arias as governor, one of the rebel commanders of the 1992 coup attempt with Chavez. Arias returned to Chavismo after criticizing and facing Chavez as an opposition candidate in the 2000 presidential elections. His administration has had to face a number of obstacles because of the poverty of the area and the economic recession. He seeks reelection against Juan Pablo Guanipa, who holds an advantage in the polls.