The Venezuelan Opposition Primary is Off to a Rocky Start

Given that the board of authorities of the National Electoral Council won’t organize the election of the opposition’s presidential candidate for 2024, the alliance appointed an independent group to play referee. But it’s already giving signs of being controlled by the G4

On October 9th, the opposition’s unitary platform Plataforma Unitaria Democrática (PUEDE) announced that it formally approved the ruleset that will govern the primary to elect the opposition’s unitary candidate for the 2024 presidential elections. The timing for the announcement couldn’t have been worse, coinciding with the horrific tragedy in Las Tejerías that took the lives of at least 50 Venezuelans and left many without homes. That said, the announcement at least shows that the opposition’s primary process is moving forward after weeks of silence that had given way to speculation as we approach the end of the year.

Just over a week later, Reuters published a story saying that PUEDE was soon to announce the date of the primaries, allegedly set for June 2023. Apparently, in response to this, PUEDE used its official Twitter account to say that announcing a date for the primaries is the sole responsibility of the National Primaries Commission. The Commission is a central player in organizing the primary process as PUEDE secretary general Omar Barboza said when details of the election were first made public back on June 28th

The Commission’s goal is to organize the primary, but it seems to have two additional, more subtle, functions.

The first one is targeted at the general electorate: the Commission is meant to be composed of “respected actors” from across civil society that will be chosen “by consensus;” which should work to sell an image of unity in the fractured opposition and avoid accusations of nepotism or party-favoritism. The second function may have to do with the parties that make up PUEDE. After years of infighting and a lack of trust among its leaders, who have been seemingly more concerned with one-upping each other than with taking realistic steps towards securing political power, PUEDE needs the Commission to look as a separate, independent entity. A referee among parties that don’t trust each other.

The trust that the parties place in the Commission will be incredibly important given that its members are in charge of a lot more than just picking a date for the elections. They’re also tasked with setting the timeframe for the campaigns, coordinating logistics around the election, requesting technical assistance from the CNE, and accepting the candidates

Clearly, who’s on the Commission will be a critical point of contention, which is probably why it was decided that members will be appointed based on consensus rather than internal elections that could risk tearing apart the fragile alliance that’s been built. After all, the main threat to unity between opposition parties are the parties themselves. 

Well, it’s been four months since the creation of this crucial Commission was announced, and we’re still waiting for an official list of its members, which according to PUEDE could be submitted for approval until Saturday, October 15th. Here’s where we should revisit the Reuters article: we’ve been told by PUEDE that the Commission is in charge of setting the date for the elections; we know that the deadline for nominating members to the Commission was extended until October 15th; and we haven’t had a single announcement saying the members have been selected. The Reuters article cites two anonymous sources who state a date has been chosen for June 2023, but we don’t have a formed Commission to even debate the date. How is it possible for Reuters’ sources to already know it?

That October 9th announcement by PUEDE mentioned that the Commission would be selected after October 15th, they would then be publicly announced, would be presented with the approved ruleset, and would then begin working. So, again, how can the sources know the date already?

Well, it’s always possible that they’ve got it wrong. They’ve either made a mistake or have reported as fact what is only an estimate. But what if they’re right? What if there’s no mistake? PUEDE has insisted that the Commission decides the date and we know that no Commission had been formed by the time Reuters reported on the date for the primary. So, if Reuters’ sources are correct, that would mean that PUEDE has already set the date without the Commission’s input.

This would be damaging to PUEDE and such a revelation may destroy the platform before June. The member parties are used to accusations of being antidemocratic and of running the show in a top-down approach that stifles debate and innovation. The big PR angle of the Commission was to put these accusations to bed. If it turns out that they’ve chosen the date without the Commission even existing, it could expose the whole thing as a mirage, political trickery to wash up their reputation. 

True, PUEDE’s credibility can afford to take another hit, because people are already beyond convinced that they’re incompetent. No one would be surprised to find out that they’ve created the Commission as a mere façade to hide their old ways. However, what would be truly damaging would be the internal revelation, the activists and members of the allied parties accepting that there’s no hope for PUEDE under G4 leadership. The realization that they can’t change and, even when proposing solutions that are meant to build trust, all they’re doing is covering for themselves, would be the final nail in the coffin for the hopes for a presidential election in 2024. It’s not just the date itself, either, it’s the doubt that would follow: what else is the Commission powerless to decide? What else is dictated by G4 leadership?

The success of the Commission as an impartial judge means the success of the primaries as a whole. If the Commission fails, it will be very unlikely that the opposition goes to the 2024 elections with a unitary candidate against Maduro.  

PUEDE can’t count on the faith of the people, and some of the more likely candidates aren’t even fully committed to the idea of a primary. All that’s left is the battered alliance that’s been negotiated, and they may well be risking that too. The following weeks are critical to securing even a remote chance of success in 2024, we better pay attention to what’s announced and, more importantly, to what’s left unsaid.