Venezuelan elections: getting dirty

Supporters of Venezuela’s socialist government have begun a smear campaign against Henrique Capriles Radonski and questioned the legitimacy of the Sunday election that confirmed him as the man who will take on President Hugo Chávez in October.

The primary vote saw a turnout of more than three million Venezuelans, a staggering figure for an opposition traditionally disjointed and unable to mobilise the population’s considerable antagonism towards the president.

The government’s questioning of the figures is stoked by the flames of burning ballot books. The opposition insists this is necessary in order to maintain secrecy – reasoning which has some weight. The so-called Tascón list, a record of those petitioning against Chávez in a 2004 recall, was leaked and many of those on it have complained of losing their jobs within government. Even now, many of those who signed are scared to have their name appear next to anti-government quotes.

The government has denied any wrongdoing and on Tuesday ruled, via the Supreme Court, that ballots must not be destroyed, questioning the Court’s independence from government.  Indeed, the government’s quick and strong response is likely to tone down Capriles’ celebrations, as voters wonder whether voting for him in October is really in their best interests.

The Supreme Court has insisted that the ballots be handed over to authorities within 24 hours. However, many have already been burned – images of which have appeared already in newspapers and on television.  The Democratic Unity Panel (MUD), the opposition conglomerate, has described the ruling as “absurd, unconstitutional and disproportionate”.

The Venezuelan cities of Maracay and Barquisimeto saw clashes between police and those protesting the government’s attempt to seize ballot books. One man died in Maracay.

National Assembly President and staunch ally of President Hugo Chávez, Diosdado Cabello, described Capriles as the candidate of “imperialism, capitalism and the Right,” adding that the government must determine whether the “numbers actually exist”.

The rivalry between Cabello and Capriles is personal. Capriles won the governorshp of Venezuela’s Miranda state agaisnt Cabello in 2008. That Capriles could win against such a strong ally of the president shocked many.

Under the headline yesterday, “The Enemy is Zionism,” Adal Hernández, a journalist working for state radio station Radio Nacional de Venezuela (RNV), attacked the 39-year-old’s Jewish roots. The piece describes Capriles’ alleged links to a Jewish business oligarchy as well as his “participation” in “US imperialism”.

Reading out what he said was a police document live on television, state media figure Mario Silva alleged that Capriles was caught having sex with another man in a car over a decade ago.

The months before October’s presidential election promise to be interesting, though these latest events threaten to hold up the momentum that the opposition needs to maintain so desperately.

Related reading:
Poll boosts hope of Chávez challenge, FT
Mr Chávez, meet the opposition, beyondbrics
Venezuela faces tough political fight, FT