A Trick to Defeat Chavismo’s Political Bans

Now that we know that chavismo is willing to move forward with political bans, the Venezuelan opposition needs to come up with a plan for the day after the primaries. Here's a proposal

Venezuela’s opposition seems to be regaining momentum as its October primaries approach. All the different political organizations are starting to align, rowing in the same direction, and pushing their candidates to win the primaries. The Maduro regime has noticed, and it has reacted by using an old tactic from the dictator’s playbook: banning adversaries from running.

Henrique Capriles and Freddy Superlano were banned from running years ago. Now, it was the frontrunner’s turn: María Corina Machado. Consider that the main allegations against her involved her support for Juan Guaidó’s interim government, we can expect that any (or all) the opposition pre-candidates could be banned as well. A Nicaraguazo, as pre-candidate César Pérez Vivas said following Machado’s ban.

This isn’t surprising. The objective of a political ban is to prevent any real opposition leader from becoming an electoral threat against Maduro, who—alongside the governing elite—will do everything it takes to keep power after the 2024 presidential elections. So, while intra-opposition solidarity is needed, the real question the opposition should be asking right now is: “How can we draft a mechanism to make these political bans irrelevant?”

All we need is a succession plan.

We, as citizens, have a great opportunity to overcome this tactic. In the upcoming self-managed primaries—where bans will not be taken into account—Venezuelans will get a more truthful picture of the democratic will of the country: we will choose a candidate, without bans or copycat parties. But, what if the winner is someone who is banned from running for office?

In this scenario, a succession plan could follow the voting results of the primaries. This mechanism could be based on a consecutive replacement order based on voting shares that are less than 5% between the winner and the most-voted pre-candidates. For example, if the difference between the winner and the second most voted option is less than 5%, then the presidential candidacy is assumed by the second most voted option. If this second candidate is also banned, and the difference between the first winner and the third option is still less than 5%, then the candidacy is assumed by the third candidate. Given the case there is not a politically available (non-banned) option with a difference of less than 5% from the winner, then the overall winner appoints a replacement candidate.

Another way to put it: if the winner of the primary is politically banned, he or she will choose their replacement candidate unless there is a politically available candidate with a difference of less than 5% in electoral results. Say, the Blue Candidate wins the primaries: but she’s banned. The second most-voted candidate, the Yellow Candidate, lost by less than 5%. He then becomes the new candidate for 2024. But he’s also banned. The third most-voted candidate lost by more than 5% to the Blue Candidate, so the Blue Candidate appoints a replacement candidate who isn’t banned.

The Prestige? The replacement candidate, in his or her first public speech, announces as vice-president the truthful winner of the primary and publicly guarantees to enforce the people’s will in case she or he is elected president. Of course, opposition leaders should all sign an agreement beforehand. While recent internecine wars make it look like an impossible feat, they did manage to do so when the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) was created in 2008.

With this mechanism, regardless of the political bans, the truthful winner would retain leadership and the replacement candidate would be a symbolic figure—a useful name—to strategically dodge the political bans. This publicly signed agreement could end up discouraging Maduro’s regime from banning opposition leaders, making the prohibitions pointless because the opposition will have a formal way to deal with it.

Of course, a succession plan requires formal political coordination, which in the past (2015 parliamentary elections) has helped the opposition skirt the regime’s tactics. It remains to be seen if the petty opposition’s internal fights will allow it. Or if, instead, the chavismo’s strategy backfires and generates a united oppositional front.