Venezuelan Opposition to Boycott Municipal Elections, Fissures Deepen

The leaders of three of Venezuela’s largest opposition parties have announced that they will not participate in upcoming municipal elections, further fracturing the already divided anti-government bloc.

By Lucas Koerner
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First Justice leader Julio Borges
First Justice leader Julio Borges announced that his party will not participate in upcoming municipal elections on the grounds that the country’s electoral system is fraudulent. (AFP)

Caracas, October 31, 2017 ( – The leaders of three of Venezuela’s largest opposition parties have announced that they will not participate in upcoming municipal elections, further fracturing the already divided anti-government bloc.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, representatives of the First Justice party (PJ), Democratic Action (AD), and the Popular Will (VP) party said they will boycott the December 10 local elections, expressly forbidding their members from taking part.

“It’s now up to us to not continue in an [electoral] system that is absolutely fraudulent,” said PJ leader and National Assembly President Julio Borges.

Joining the three parties in the boycott are a number of smaller parties, including Alianza Bravo Pueblo, Causa R, Bandera Roja, and the Venezuelan Progressive Movement.

The announcement comes on the heels of the opposition’s surprise defeat in October 15 regional elections, in which it won just five of twenty-three state governorships. The main opposition coalition, the MUD, has denounced the result as a “massive fraud”, though has yet to provide proof of generalized vote tampering.

The electoral defeat has further splintered the long divided coalition, with four out of five of the victorious opposition governors swearing in before the National Constituent Assembly in an open rebuke of the MUD leadership. The new opposition governors, all members of AD, were promptly ejected from their party over the move.

In response to the governors’ mutiny, both AD and VP have publically announced that any of their members who defy party orders and register for December’s election will be expelled.

Deepening fissures

The announced boycott has, however, only driven a deeper wedge in the opposition ranks.

Former Lara Governor for the Progressive Advance party (AP) Henri Falcon, who recently provoked the ire of many in the MUD after he conceded defeat to his socialist opponent, has called for participating in the elections.

“We have always maintained the thesis of never abandoning the electoral path nor dialogue,” he told reporters last week.

“If we don’t have sufficient political maturity to resolve this within the framework of the constitution, we could end up in a war amongst ourselves,” he added.

In addition to Falcon, Tachira’s newly elected governor, Laidy Gomez, once again defied her Democratic Action party in calling opposition supporters to vote in order to “not let abstention cede spaces to the government”.

Numerous opposition-aligned analysts and politicians have attributed the October 15 defeat to abstention, which saw the MUD lose over 2 million votes in relation to its landslide 2015 parliamentary victory.

In this respect, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) head Felipe Mujica has warned that abstention this time around would be an “extremely grave political error”.

Despite the boycott, a number of opposition parties have registered their candidates as of Tuesday, including AP, MAS, the Christian Democrats (COPEI), the New Vision for My Country party (NUVIPA), and the Unity and Understanding Party (PUENTE).

The New Era party (UNT), one of the MUD’s largest parties alongside AD, VP, and PJ, said as of Tuesday that it has yet to reach a decision regarding whether to boycott, though it has went ahead and registered candidates with the National Electoral Council (CNE). 

Notwithstanding the party’s indecision, UNT’s founder, Manuel Rosales, confirmed Monday that he will be running for mayor of Maracaibo following the Supreme Court’s lifting of a seven-year six-month ban on holding public office against him. The UNT has indicated that Rosales could be expelled if the party decides not to participate.

While a bulk of the MUD coalition will not be participating in the municipal races, a number of parties will see their members run on the tickets of other organizations.

Hernan Aleman of Democratic Action will be running on the Progressive Advance's ticket in Zulia’s Cabimas municipality, in spite of the threat of expulsion by AD chief Henry Ramos Allup. AP has vowed to back all AD candidates who wish to run in Zulia, Tachira, Nueva Esparta, and Anzoategui, the four states Democratic Action won in October’s regional elections.

In the case of UNT, two of its members, Omar Villalba and Carrizal Mayor Jose Luis Rodriguez, will both be running on AP’s ticket.

MAS and NUVIPA have likewise offered to “lend” their tickets to candidates from other parties.

In a number of cases, incumbents resigned from their parties in order to register on other tickets.

In Carabobo, Naguanagua Mayor Alejandro Feo La Cruz resigned from the Popular Will party in order run for reelection on the AP ticket. Gustavo Duque, mayor of the wealthy eastern Caracas municipality of Chacao, similarly left First Justice in order to contest reelection under the banner of AP.

As of the Wednesday deadline, the CNE has reported that a total of 4,800 candidates from all political parties have been registered in the December 10 races as well as fifteen candidates for the governorship of Zulia. The border state will see a re-run election for its state-governor seat in December after the elected opposition governor Juan Guanipa refused to swear-in before the National Constituent Assembly. 

Opposition eyes presidential primaries

In spite of their refusal to run in the December 10 elections, several parties in the MUD are already setting their sights on next year’s presidential election.

In a bid to patch up divisions within the coalition, the Causa R has proposed that the MUD bring forward presidential primaries, a motion that was seconded by VP.

AD Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup, who has already presented himself as a 2018 presidential contender, said that the proposal should be “considered without prejudices”.

Former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles and VP leader Leopoldo Lopez have likewise indicated their desire to participate in “eventual primaries”, despite both politicians being banned from public office over charges of corruption and incitement to violence, respectively.

However, presidential primaries could just as easily widen the existing rifts within the coalition.

Last week, Capriles announced his withdrawal from the MUD as long as Ramos Allup remains a member, accusing him of cynical personal ambition and collusion with the government.

Capriles joins Vente Venezuela leader Maria Corina Machado who broke with the MUD in August over its abandoning of its strategy of insurrectionary street mobilizations aimed at toppling the government, known as “zero hour”.

Machado, herself a perennial opposition presidential hopeful, has yet to respond to the call for primaries.