A major fault line in Venezuela’s opposition movement surfaced this week as the socialist elements of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) urge participation in the government’s regional elections, which the center-right opposition rejects as a move legitimizing dictator Nicolás Maduro.
The socialist regime appears to agree, as it published an article in state media this week arguing that the presence of opposition candidates on the ballots in the upcoming December regional elections is an implicit admission that the regime can be trusted to host free and fair elections.
Henry Ramos Allup, a vice president of the Socialist International who has entrenched himself in the opposition leadership, announced this week that his MUD member party, Democratic Action, would field candidates in the December election.
“If we don’t enroll in gubernatorial elections, chavistas will win 23 governorships via forfeit, and we would also lose 335 mayorships,” Allup argued this week. “There are people who have given their lives demanding an electoral calendar and elections. These people died demanding to participate and we have never convened a pro-abstention march.”
On Thursday, Allup announced that the MUD as a whole would field candidates, scolding opponents of participating in the elections. “The same people who say that participating is a crime, within 15 days will be the ones accusing us of giving away 23 governorships,” he argued.
That day, the MUD Twitter account confirmed his claims, posting a statement reading “our struggle is for the vote, the most powerful weapon of rejection against the Maduro regime.”
The loudest opposition to this plan has come from the MUD member party Vente Venezuela, led by former National Assembly lawmaker María Corina Machado. Machado was removed from her post in a violent military action by the Maduro government in which she suffered minor tear gas related injuries during the 2014 anti-socialist protests.
In a speech Thursday, Machado announced that Vente Venezuela would not participate in the elections because doing so would allow the Maduro regime to claim that the opposition believes the nation is free and democratic. She also announced that Vente Venezuela would no longer be a member party to the MUD if they continued with the plan to run candidates.
“To go to regional elections today the way the system is set up is to legitimize a National Electoral Council (CNE) that the entire world recognizes as an accomplice to the greatest fraud in the history of this hemisphere,” she said. “To go to elections is to accept that we have lost the struggle in the streets, and that is not true.”
“We cannot fall into this trap. We cannot turn our backs on the people of Venezuela. We cannot betray the struggle for which we have called people to the streets for 132 days,” she concluded.
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) August 10, 2017
Friday marks the 133rd consecutive day of anti-socialist protests against the Maduro regime, beginning after the now-retracted Supreme Court ruling annulling the National Assembly and declaration of the Supreme Court as the nation’s legislative branch. Following the reversal of this ruling, Maduro announced the creation of the “national constituents assembly,” a fabricated legislative body made up of Maduro allies that would usurp the power of the National Assembly.
Shortly before her speech, Machado noted on Twitter that she was aware that deviating from the path of Henry Ramos Allup was a political risk. “This is a dictatorship,” she wrote. “We are POLITICALLY alone now, but on the side of the people and without losing the goal of ending this regime now.”
Es dictadura. Nos quedamos POLÍTICAMENTE solos, pero del lado de la gente y sin perder el objetivo para terminar con este régimen ya.
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) August 9, 2017
Standing with Vente Venezuela is the Brave People Alliance, a MUD member party whose highest profile member is the political prisoner Antonio Ledezma, rightful mayor of Caracas. Maduro’s secret police dragged Ledezma out of his office in 2015, locking him in prison and, subsequently, house arrest, without yet trying or convicting him of a crime. On his Twitter account, his wife Mitzy Capriles announced the party would not participate in the elections.
Mitzy. Antonio fiel a sus convicciones y consecuente con mandato dictado por el pueblo el pasado 16 Julio no avala elecciones regionales. pic.twitter.com/M46PBVF2JI
— Antonio Ledezma (@alcaldeledezma) August 9, 2017
“To participate is to give a certificate of good conduct to the current CNE that promised this constituent crime,” a statement from the party read. “Participating is to give up the space acquired with votes and sacrifice on December 6,” the date the opposition swept the National Assembly elections.
The Maduro regime appears to agree. In an article posted in state media this week, Nicolás Maduro is quoted as congratulating opposition parties that are registering for the vote for granting the CNE legitimacy. “I salute that today all the opposition political parties have registered candidates before the CNE and are willing to participate in democratic, free elections, under [CNE director] Tibisay Lucena,” Maduro said.
The U.S.Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Tibisay Lucena for her participation in the fraudulent Venezuelan election system. Smartmatic, the election technology firm that Venezuela uses to run elections, has confirmed that Venezuelan authorities doctored the number of votes during the July 30 ANC elections.
Some MUD parties have opted for a middle-of-the-road approach to the elections. Voluntad Popular, a Socialist International member party led by political prisoner Leopoldo López, announced that it would field its own political prisoners as regional election candidates in protests. Calling the elections a “distraction,” the party said in a statement that nominating prisoners of conscience to these posts was an act of “resistance” and rejected the idea that the vote would consist of a free and fair election.
Voluntad Popular also said in its statement it would seek to remove the current heads of the CNE and replace them with trustworthy arbiters.
Whether Voluntad Popular will be able to field such candidates remains unclear, as Diosdado Cabello – Maduro’s drug-linked former second-in-command who now holds a prominent position on the ANC – said this week that all candidates for the December elections would require a seal of approval from the fraudulent legislative body. To be on the ballot, he claimed, potential candidates must carry a “letter of good conduct” from the ANC.