How ‘Third-Way’ Parties May Look to Erode the Opposition Vote in 2024

Are “Third Way” parties supporting the unitary candidate in 2024? Some predictions below, get ready for some Venezuela scorpion party inside baseball

In June 2020, the Maduro-controlled Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) handpicked new leadership for the largest opposition political parties through a series of wild rulings. Suddenly, Acción Democrática, Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular and a handful of small parties had new boards, some of them connected to the Operación Alacrán (Scorpion) scandal: that time when a group of opposition lawmakers—allegedly bribed by Chavismo—sought to take control of the 2015 National Assembly and oust Juan Guaidó. At the stroke of a pen, Chavismo had found itself a tailor-made “opposition” ready to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition and denounced as fraudulent by its international allies.

A year later, the doppelganger parties (widely known as alacranes) joined other nominally-opposition parties—El Cambio, Avanzada Progresista and Cambiemos—that had carved up a space within Chavismo’s institutions and formed a new coalition named Alianza Democrática: a parallel alliance, with its own candidates, to challenge the mainstream opposition’s Unitary Platform (MUD’s successor), which had now rejoined the electoral strategy. 

The results were catastrophic for the opposition. Despite non-Chavista votes making up 60% of the vote, PSUV ended up winning most governorships as the oppositional vote was dispersed in multiple candidates in each state. In many states, for example, clueless voters voted for the alacrán Acción Democrática and the alacrán Copei—parties which won most of the coalition’s municipalities—without knowing these were intervened versions of the parties.

Nevertheless, the dynamics were more complex than they seemed at first glance: in fact, in many states, some of the minor parties that joined the Alianza Democrática—which ended up including around 25 parties—actually supported candidates outside the coalition or even supported the Unitary Platform’s. Similarly, Alianza Democrática capitalized on the outrage of regional leaders and families sidelined by the Platform’s choice of candidates appointed by the parties’ national leaderships in Caracas and Maracaibo.

Without enough funds to support its clientelistic networks and massive spending, the Venezuelan government will likely push the clout of the candidates of the alacrán parties and those outside the Unitary Platform in the 2024 presidential elections. While confusing voters will be more difficult than in 2021—as the presidential ballot shows the picture of the candidate—, some of these parties have already announced their own candidates outside of the opposition’s primaries: opening up the way to multiple “opposition” candidates that will challenge the Platform’s primaries-chosen one, dispersing the opposition vote and allowing Chavismo to win as the largest minority.

However, not all parties outside the Unitary Platform seem determined to support third-party candidates. So, what can we expect of all the “third way” parties in 2024? Here’s our case by case predictions.

Venezuelan Oppo party heat-map. Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are

Alianza Democrática’s Pixie World 

Alianza Democrática was founded by former opposition lawmakers involved in the Operación Alacrán scandal like Luis Parra and José Brito, who have some claim to being opposition politicians since they were once affiliated with the Platform’s parties but have long since separated in search of building their own toothless “opposition” alliance.

Alianza Democrática has grown considerably since their first appearance back in the 2020 parliamentary elections and now claims to be a serious coalition of more than 25 political parties. However, the 2021 regional elections proved that the Alianza’s parties don’t all behave as a single voting bloc but rather as two distinct groups made up of the coalition´s core founders and “everyone else.”

The coalition was originally made up of Cambiemos, Esperanza por el Cambio and Avanzada Progresista—parties that ran as opposition in the 2018 sham elections despite the mainstream opposition boycott—alongside the alacrán Acción Democrática and the alacrán COPEI. This core group marketed itself strongly as a unified front which could be a real alternative to the mainstream opposition. The alliance then grew to include the intervened Voluntad Popular, the intervened Primero Justicia (later renamed Primero Venezuela), the intervened Bandera Roja and other parties like the intervened NUVIPA, Soluciones, the intervened Movimiento Republicano, MIN Unidad, and even Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). This second group, made up of parties that joined the coalition just before the 2021 regional elections seem to be members in name, more than in action.

For example, the alacrán Voluntad Popular supported the Alianza’s gubernatorial candidates in most states, but voted differently in four states. The intervened Bandera Roja similarly broke away from the coalition in three states and even supported the Unitary Platform’s candidate in Zulia. Movimiento Republicano was an even worse member of the Alianza, siding against its candidates in eight states.

The Alianza suffered a pretty hard shock in the 2021 Barinas gubernatorial election which was controversial all around. After the Unitary Platform’s candidate, Freddy Superlano, was projected to win by less than one percent of the vote, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice stepped in (after a request by MIN Unidad, but we’ll get to that) and ordered a repetition of the elections. Rafael Rosales Peña, the Alianza’s candidate in Barinas, was shocked by this intervention and stepped aside asking his supporters to vote for Sergio Garrido—the Platform’s new candidate—over Alianza Democrática’s new candidate, Claudio Fermín. This marked a big split in internal alliances and Garrido ended up winning with a solid 14% margin, and PSUV and Alianza Democrática lost support parties amid the authoritarian actions of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.

Barinas should be a canary in the coal mine.

Our prediction: After all this, it seems the Alianza has thinned to a new core group mainly made up of Primero Venezuela, the alacrán AD, and the alacrán COPEI. These parties—with the support of the minor intervened parties—are likely to continue to act together, alongside intervened parties, in their goal of helping PSUV by muddying the water and presenting their own candidates for the 2024 election: the three core parties have already announced a candidate each, despite the alacrán Copei meeting with the National Commision of Primaries according to sources within the commission.

The fate of El Cambio, a sort of evangelical party, remains to be seen: it actually mentioned the primaries in a February tweet, but it’s unlikely it will participate.

Ecarri’s New Club

Antonio Ecarri—leader of the party Alianza del Lápiz, a former ally of the mainstream opposition—has repeatedly affirmed that he’s running independently for president: without participating in the primaries; a “third way” candidate.  Seeking to use the elections to gain political leverage, he recently revealed he’s founding a new coalition—Independent Pact for Popular Change—with two founding parties of Alianza Democrática: Timoteo Zambrano’s (the man leading the parliamentary commission drafting the anti-NGO law) Cambiemos, and Avanzada Progresista. He also said there were talks with the Communist Party of Venezuela, but the latter ferociously rejected the affirmations.

There’s an important detail here: Avanzada Progresista was intervened by the CNE a year ago, forcing the ousting of its founder Henri Falcón (a regional leader in Lara) and important chunks of the party which then moved to a new party named Futuro. Unlike the post-intervention Avanzada Progresista, Futuro is planning to support the Unity Platform’s candidate in 2024. 

Our prediction: Ecarri—with the support of Alianza del Lápiz, Cambiemos and the intervened Avanzada Progresista—will run against the unitary candidate. Futuro will support the Unitary Platform.

Evil Doppelgangers: MINunidad and Soluciones

There are parties whose whole purpose seems to be breaking up the oppositional vote. In 2015, the TSJ appointed a new board for MIN Unidad—a minor party founded in 1977. Later that year, MIN Unidad ran its own candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections, seeking to use the similarity of its color and name to the opposition’s “MUD Unidad” logo in the ballot to confuse voters. MIN Unidad even had posters with pictures of a MUD candidate. Qué descaro.

In fact, MIN Unidad deployed its own regional candidates in almost every state in 2021. Its confusion tactics reached new heights during the repetition of the Barinas elections, which took away Freddy Superlano’s victory: the party supported a candidate named Adolfo Superlano.

Claudio Fermín’s Soluciones is a similar case. While Soluciones (with a logo suspiciously similar to Vente’s) had its own candidates in most states, Fermín—supported by the Alianza Democrática—ran against Superlano’s replacement after he and his wife were banned: a situation that led to Alianza Democrática’s implosion.

Our prediction: We can expect MIN Unidad and Soluciones running their own candidates in 2024 or supporting a non-Platform candidate. Who knows, maybe MIN Unidad will even find a candidate named María Corina Marcano.

Fuerza Vecinal and MAS: the Platform’s New Friends?

These two have very different histories but could find themselves playing very similar roles in the 2024 presidential election. Fuerza Vecinal is a new party founded by very public former members of the mainstream opposition party Primero Justicia like Darwin González, Elías Sayegh, and Gustavo Duque who were later joined by political heavy hitters like Morel Rodríguez Ávila.

Fuerza Vecinal is a party that seems very comfortable in maintaining its small feudoms (some thirty municipalities, including the country’s richest, and the state of Nueva Esparta) rather than seeking national power. For a couple of months in 2023 they looked set to back their own candidate in the opposition’s primary, even stating that they’d participate. In fact, Elías Sayegh toured major cities around the country to take public policy suggestions from the populace in an initiative they called “What Would You Do If You Were President?” The party has now backed down from its presidential aspirations (for now), apparently pressured by the national government after a corruption scandal involving one of their municipal governments, and seems likely to take up a supporting role en route to the 2024 election.

Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), on the other hand, is a party that has been around for decades now and has had a troubled relationship with the ruling PSUV party, despite once supporting Hugo Chávez. In 2021, MAS proved to be a worthwhile ally of the mainstream opposition, endorsing or supporting Platform candidates in some 10 states while voting for “third way” candidates in five states and only siding with the Alianza Democrática in Aragua and Nueva Esparta. 

That’s really close to the way Fuerza Vecinal behaved in 2021 as well. There’s quite a bit of overlap in the Unitary Platform candidates that both FV and MAS supported, with the former endorsing the Platform in 13 states, voting “third way” in five, and overlapping with MAS and the Alianza Democrática in the Nueva Esparta gubernatorial election of Morel Rodríguez Ávila.

Our prediction: While their histories are so different, both MAS and FV—which have met with the National Commision of Primaries—find themselves in a temporary alliance with the Unitary Platform and are very likely to support the mainstream opposition’s single candidate after the primaries. However, there is a possibility that the support of both parties will be lackluster in states where they have distanced themselves from the Platform like Anzoátegui and Bolívar in the case of MAS, or Amazonas and Apure in Fuerza Vecinal’s case.

The Wild Cards

Some parties cannot be called yet. Movimiento Ecológico (or at least one of its factions), for example, has also met with the Commission. While Movimiento Ecológico had its own candidate in Bolívar (a well known former member of La Causa R and MUD lawmaker) and supported Alianza Democrática in other states, the party supported MUD in half of the states. Nevertheless, it decided to support Fermín during the Barinas repetition. It’s unclear if it will support the Platform’s candidate in 2024 or if it will go its own way. 

Unión y Progreso is an odd species: founded by senior Copei figures, the party had no coherent position in 2021—supporting MUD candidates in some states and Alianza Democrática’s, its own or third coalitions’ in others. While its founder Eduardo Fernández is a veteran of Cuarta República politics, he has criticized the primaries: calling instead for a “consensus candidate” and flirting with the idea of running himself  without participating in the primaries. 

There are other parties whose position is unclear. For example, Centrados—which seemingly plagiarized its logo from a Spanish party—appeared out of the blue in 2021 but supported MUD in 10 states. The party seems to have a more hardliner position than most “third way” parties: its inscribed Roland Carreño, a well-known political prisoner, as candidate for mayor as an act of political defiance. 

Rojo, Rosadito: The Dissident Chavistas

The Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV), the country’s traditional communist organization, has historically been a close ally of Chavismo. Nevertheless, the relationship has soured: the 2021 regional elections saw the PCV run its own candidates in most states away from any PSUV support and even finding common ground with parties like UPP89 in states like Apure or even El Lápiz. The relationship with PSUV seems to have finally broken beyond repair, as it now decries the Maduro government as “authoritarian” and “neoliberal” as the government continues to arrest local PCV activists like Franklin Duarte in Apure on May 30th. In recent days, the possibility that the Supreme Tribunal of Justice may intervene the PCV and create an alacrán variant is rising.

Unidad Política Popular 89 (UPP89) may be a Chavista party but it has an anti-Maduro position since its inception in 2016. UPP89 has therefore been an (insignificant) rival to PSUV through claiming that it’s continuing the legacy Hugo Chávez intended for the country. The party ran its own candidate in the 2018 presidential election and supported a wide array of candidacies in the 2021 regional elections, even voting for the Platform’s candidates in Miranda and Monagas, while running their own in states like Aragua and Zulia and voting for the Alianza Democrática’s candidates in Sucre and Yaracuy. On May 31, the party announced they’ll be running César Almeida as their candidate in the Platform’s primary.

Our prediction: UPP89 has confirmed it will run César Almeida as their candidate in the Platform’s primary, so they’re highly likely to support the winner at a national level come 2024. While the PCV have never run a presidential candidate against PSUV, it becomes increasingly likely that they’ll at least abstain from helping out Nicolás Maduro given recent events or it will actually end up supporting Ecarri. Given its closeness to UPP89, there’s a small chance of pulling the PCV into the Platform’s fold. However, this will depend heavily on who the candidate ends up being and how much worse things get with the PSUV… if it survives a TSJ intervention.

2024 and Beyond

Maduro’s government suffers from a serious lack of popular approval, something he’s been unable to rectify. Facing daily protests from the labor sector amid a stagnating economic situation, and in the middle of a very public purge of government officials over “misplaced” funds from the state oil company, we’re likely to see an increase in authoritarian measures in an attempt to maintain “stability”. Just a few days ago, a motion was filed by a known PSUV-associated politician before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to intervene the National Commission of Primaries. The success of such a proceeding would allow full government control over the primary process and the creation of an alacrán National Commission of Primaries, an incredibly undemocratic decision which could possibly shatter some of the more fragile anti-Platform alliances we’ve discussed here, and strengthen support for the Unitary Platform’s parties: think of the Barinas election repetition but on a national scale.This could create big shifts in local politics which will dictate electoral behavior in the 2025 parliamentary elections—defining new coalitions or alliances in an increasingly authoritarian system—and beyond. The next few months will be critical and marked by upheaval. The opposition might renew itself in a new form. Or might splinter ad infinitum.