CARACAS, Venezuela – The opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is in crisis with some parties threatening to leave after 4 of 5 opposition leaders elected to governorship positions swore in before the Constituent Assembly, a body not recognized by the MUD.
On October 16, the National Electoral Council (CNE) said that President Nicolás Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 17 of 23 state governorships in the election the night before as parts of the divided opposition presented candidates while others abstained from the vote in protest and urged their followers to do the same.
Tibisay Lucena, the head of the CNE, announced the results late on that Monday evening as Maduro hailed the incident-free election as a “success that reflects the triumph of democracy and peace” in Venezuela.
Gerardo Blyde, the campaign head of the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), on the other hand, said that the results of the election are “seriously suspicious and doubtful” even before any announcements were made. “The information that we have from our numbers of turnout and projections is different from the electoral results announced by the CNE,” Blyde said.
Lucena announced that 17 of the 23 spots for 4-year governorships were won by the PSUV amid a turnout of 61.14 percent. In bulk numbers, the PSUV won 54 percent of the vote nationwide while the MUD won 45 percent. She said that the results, whether a victory for the PSUV or the MUD, were irreversible in all the states except for Bolívar in the southeast of the country where there is still no clear winner.
Given the results, the PSUV has assumed power in 17 states while the MUD won 5; Bolívar still must wait for a definitive winner. The outcome means that the PSUV’s dominance in governorships from the previous 4-year period has decreased from 20 states to 17 states (and possibly 16 pending the outcome in Bolívar).
After the results were announced, the MUD said that they “do not recognize the outcome,” as expected. Blyde said that the government “violated the rights of the voting public” by moving voting centers and “demonstrating abusive attitudes.”
“We have asked the regional groups and authorities to verify the process, to audit everything including in the states where the MUD candidates were victorious,” Blyde said and added that the opposition is already planning “activities in the street in response to the electoral irregularities observed” by his faction.
The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA) and its team of some 70 international observers, however, said that the elections were held “freely and successfully” and “without intimidation or incident.”
In the aftermath of the election, four of the five opposition governors elected decided to swear in before the Constituent Assembly, a parallel legislature that was created at the behest of Maduro as his clashes with the opposition-dominated National Assembly resulted in political deadlock.
Seeing as how the opposition views the Constituent Assembly as an illegitimate body created to circumvent the MUD’s success in the legislative election of December 2015, the opposition coalition was surprised to hear that the four elected officials recognized the power of the Constituent Assembly, enacted in August, by swearing in before the body’s top figures.
The four governors are Antonio Barreto Sira (Anzoátegui), Alfredo Díaz (Nueva Esparta), Laidy Gómez (Táchira) and Ramón Guevara (Mérida) and all four belong to the socialdemocratic Democratic Action (DA) party.
The general sentiment among the populace and polls showing the MUD with a comfortable edge did not translate into votes: a large faction of the MUD voiced their rejection of the election calling it a “farce” weeks ahead of voting day, which discouraged many of the MUD followers from voting. Other opposition politicians even directly urged supporters to boycott the vote.
Thus, the opposition’s unaligned streams expected a blowout victory and a fraud simultaneously, effectively ensuring a victory for the ruling PSUV and media time for Maduro to gloat about a win that does not reflect the sentiment of the majority of his compatriots.
Antonio Ecarri Bolívar, the second-in-command of the DA, one of the MUD’s most important political parties, lamented the lack of participation on behalf of the opposition: “In this election, there were 3 million less opposition voters that participated when compared to the parliamentary election of 2015 while the pro-government voters had a very similar turnout,” he said to Venezuelan news agency Revista SIC.
That split within the opposition carried over to the post-election period as many prominent figures blasted the Democratic Action politicians for swearing in before the Constituent Assembly.
The centrist Justice First (PJ) party, led by National Assembly speaker Julio Borges, said that his party “will continue to make decisions in defense of the interests of the Venezuelan people unlike others” and urged the rest of the factions in the oppositon to do the same. He added that “when it comes to our nation, political pragmatism or convenience is not an option.”
Juan Pablo Guanipa (Zulia), the only opposition governor-elect not to swear in before the Constituent Assembly, belongs to the PJ (the single largest opposition party). He shared a photo on his Twitter account of his four AD colleagues swearing in and said that he would not swear in before the “fraudulent Constituent Assembly due to his love for Zulia and Venezuela.”
As Guanipa refused to swear in before what Maduro considers the highest legislative power in the country, the National Electoral Council could call for a new election in 30 days for the Zulia state governorship.
Two-time MUD presidential candidate and former Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, also of the PJ, said that “there will be a new unified opposition.” Capriles Radonski, possibly the single most prominent opposition politician, said that he will be leaving the MUD because he will “not be a part of the same coalition in which Ramos Allup is also a member.”
The opposition center-right party Popular Will (VP) also attacked the AD by saying that opposition lawmakers “have the historic responsibility to stand firm in our convictions and principles in the face of the tricks and attacks launched against us from the dictatorship of Maduro.”
In response, AD leader Henry Ramos Allup said that while there are many things he detests about Maduro’s leadership and the political situation in Venezuela, he insisted there is no room for “the egos of politicians” in government. He insisted that the decision to swear in was made after a series of popular assemblies in the states where the party was victorious that urged the respective AD victors to present themselves before the Constituent Assembly.
Ramos Allup also alleged that the other opposition parties are “taking shots at AD simply because we won 4 of the 5 governorships taken by the opposition.” With presidential elections just over a year away, the AD and Ramos Allup as its head are taking the lead in “pragmatic politics” and will hope to establish themselves as the non-violent and democratic opposition option.