Venezuela’s highly anticipated presidential election does not take place until October 7, but the competition will begin in earnest this weekend. Venezuela’s opposition party is holding its first presidential primary on Sunday, February 12th. This is an important step for the opposition because it will offer them an opportunity to create a more unified movement than they have had in the past while simultaneously mounting a formidable campaign against the incumbent, Hugo Chavez.
Here is a look at the pre-candidates who are vying for the opposition nomination, listed in descending order by most likely to win the nomination:
Henrique Capriles Radonski is the 39-year-old governor of the Miranda state, the second most populous state in Venezuela. He is a self-described “center-left progressive,” who admires the platform and accomplishments of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula championed economic growth and social programs throughout his presidency. Capriles is a charismatic politician who has promised to aid the poor, while at the same time being friendly to businesses. He has taken a hands-on approach with the poor and working classes, which has won him their favor. According to a poll by Datanalisis, Capriles is the favorite entering Sunday’s contest, with 44.9% of registered voters’ support.
Pablo Perez is the 42-year-old governor of the Zulia state. This popular governor of Venezuela’s second largest state and his past campaign experiences with established political parties that have endorsed him, promotes a center-left platform. The same Datanalisis poll found that he enjoyed 33.6% support.
The 43-year-old Maria Machado is the most popular right wing candidate in the opposition primary. This respected congresswoman has a reputation as a strong debater. She is popular among Venezuela’s upper class and its private sector for her strong opposition to Chavez’s nationalization policies, but is yet to win significant support among Venezuela’s poor majority.
Two other candidates are worth mentioning, but have no realistic chance at winning the opposition nomination. Diego Arria is one of the more, if not the most, accomplished candidates in the primary field. At the age of 73, his resume boasts the title of former governor, minister, and envoy to the United Nations. He is an outside candidate to win the nomination, but his is a name to know because he will more than likely be a key adviser to the eventual opposition candidate, and could even hold a prominent position in a new government should Chavez be defeated. Pablo Medina is more of a local celebrity than potential winning candidate. The 64-year-old Medina was a co-conspirator with Hugo Chavez during Chavez’s failed coup attempt in 1992 against then President Carlos Andres Perez.
If the polling results are accurate, it appears to be mostly a two-candidate race, with Machado also deserving consideration. Henrique Capriles or Pablo Perez will most likely be the opposition nominee, and I believe that it will be Capriles because of his charisma and the initial lead he holds according to the Datanalisis poll. I expect to see general unity among the opposition once their candidate has been determined. I also anticipate a few outspoken dissenters. The sooner the internal debates and divisions within the opposition are resolved (or put aside for the chance to unseat Chavez), the sooner they will be able to take advantage of the ample time between now and the October 7th presidential election. If they can capitalize on the almost eight-month window between the primary and the general election, the opposition will pose the greatest threat to Chavez’s reign to date.
– Max Rava
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