One of Venezuela’s major opposition parties has decided to run in local elections next month despite a boycott by others, deepening a split in the Democratic Unity coalition to the glee of President Nicolas Maduro and his ruling Socialist Party.
Three of the main groupings in the coalition have vowed not to participate in the Dec. 10 balloting for 335 mayors and one governor because they believe the election system is rigged.
But a party known as A New Time, based in oil-rich western Zulia state where the governorship is up for grabs, argues that Maduro must still be fought at the ballot box to avoid simply handing him more political space.
Manuel Rosales, a former Zulia governor who fled Venezuela in 2009 after corruption charges leveled by the government of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, said on Thursday he would be running again on behalf of A New Time. “I’m not going to leave Zulianos alone,” he said, adding that he respected those abstaining from the elections. Rosales, who once ran against Chavez for the presidency, was jailed in 2015 on his return from exile in Peru. Authorities lifted a ban on him running for office just this week.
His party’s stance has infuriated many opposition supporters. Another opposition leader won the Zulia governorship in elections last month but was prohibited from taking office for refusing to bow to a pro-Maduro legislative superbody.
“He’s a sellout,” said Juan Carlos Rivero, 34, at an auto repair shop in Zulia state capital Maracaibo. He had voted for Rosales in the past but did not plan to in December.
Having failed to oust Maduro via street protests earlier this year – which left at least 125 people dead – and having then performed badly in the Oct. 15 gubernatorial vote, Venezuela’s opposition is in its worst crisis of recent years.
Though polls show it has majority support, and Venezuelans are angry at Maduro over an unprecedented economic crisis, the opposition has failed to capitalize on that.
Maduro and his aides have been exulting in the opposition disarray, saying parties ordering their members to abstain next month were behaving undemocratically even as they accuse him of being a “dictator.”
“When they lose elections, they cry fraud and when they know things are against them, instead of fighting, they withdraw,” Maduro said in a recent speech, adding that Venezuela’s elections were clean and fair.
There is speculation the government may seek to take advantage of current opposition weakness by moving up the expected December 2018 date for Venezuela’s next presidential election.