16-D Races to Watch: Táchira

BanderaTACHIRA.svgThe Andean state of Táchira is considered to be the true bastion of anti-Chavismo, as the last presidential election can confirm.

But this is one of the places where there’s a split within the opposition, which creates an opening for the comandante presidente’s supporters to put it back in the red column.

Governor Cesar Perez Vivas, candidate of the MUD
Governor Cesar Perez Vivas, candidate of the MUD

Incumbent governor César Pérez Vivas won four years ago by a very close margin. During his term, he has faced a hostile State Legislature (controlled by the PSUV), severe budget cuts and multiple charges of corruption.

He avoided a primary thanks to the MUD rules on the matter. His message is one of optimistic resilience, and his camp feels confident.

Former Mayor of San Cristóbal, William Mendez. He's supported by OPINA, Poder Laboral and Procomunidad.
Former Mayor of San Cristóbal, William Mendez. He’s supported by OPINA, Poder Laboral and Procomunidad.

The plot thickens, though. Four years ago, then-Mayor of San Cristóbal (and local football legend) William Mendez was supposed to be the opposition’s candidate, but he was barred from running by the Comptroller General’s office. This year, his request for a primary was shut down, so he launched his own bid.

He’s only been endorsed by three small parties, after other two groups withdrew their support. His political platform is about making Táchira “a first-class State”.

Former Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz (2000-2008)
Former Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz (2000-2008)

Chavismo could benefit by the split, even though they had a hard time finding a suitable candidate. Chávez first chose an “out-of-towner”, former Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami to challenge Pérez Vivas.

He didn’t last long, and was sent to Aragua instead. The last-minute options to replace him included bringing back former Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz for a third term.

José Gregorio Vielma Mora, candidate of the PSUV-GPP
José Gregorio Vielma Mora, candidate of the PSUV-GPP

Instead, the PSUV and its allies got lucky by drafting another local: former head of the SENIAT (the national tax recollection and customs agency), Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, as their final candidate.

His debatable reputation as an efficient bureaucrat works in his favor, although you have to wonder how being a “tax collector” fails to become an albatross around a candidate’s neck. After spending four years in political wilderness, he has returned to his native land (with a little help from the CNE).

His campaign so far has been marked by dumb gaffes, both verbal and written.

Pérez Vivas and Mendez tried (unsuccessfully) to find a compromise through negotiations. Given the high degree of polarization and the long-running opposition preference in the state, the chances of both Pérez Vivas and Vielma Mora depend on a single factor: how many votes Mendez can siphon away in the end.

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