The May 2 internal pre-selection of United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidates for the September 26 national elections was an example of the mobilising force of this mass party in construction.
More than 2.5 million party members participated. This demonstrated the PSUV is the largest national political force, and highlighted its democratic and participatory nature.
The participation rate was greater than the 2.3 million people who voted to pre-select PSUV candidates for governors and mayors in 2008.
More than 3500 candidates stood in the 87 different electoral circuits, for 110 deputy and 110 alternate positions.
The national leadership, headed by PSUV president Hugo Chavez — also the Venezuelan president — will decide a further 52 deputy and 52 alternate deputy candidates for state-based lists.
Indigenous peoples will select candidates for the parliament’s three indigenous seats.
The results reflected, in a contradictory manner, the desire of the grassroots to put “new faces” in parliament.
Of the 220 candidates pre-selected, 44 are members of the PSUV Youth.
In stark comparison, the right-wing opposition’s Roundtable of Democratic Unity was unable to find a place for some of the right-wing student “leaders” touted by the private media.
The PSUV pre-selection was monitored by the National Electoral Council. The opposition, however, held unmonitored pre-selection ballots on April 25 in only 15 of the 87 electoral circuits, to settle the most contentious areas.
The opposition claims 300,000 voters participated. The remaining candidates were handpicked by leaders of the various small opposition parties.
Of the 106 current deputies who ran for pre-selection as PSUV candidates, only 38 won; 12 as alternates.
None of the most well-known union leaders were pre-selected as PSUV candidates (three were chosen as alternates). But a number of worker, community and peasant activists made the list.
Women made up 51 of the candidates (23 deputies and 28 alternates).
Despite these results, some sections of the PSUV are discontented. State radio station RNV was dominated by calls on election night from party members denouncing ventajismo — practices such as vote-buying, bribery and using state resources as part of election campaigns.
Other candidates flagrantly broke party regulations. Despite a ban on campaigning on polling day, pro-government website Aporrea.org published photos and videos of election campaign material outside several polling booths: at least two candidates — members of the national leadership — broke the rules.
Some party officials were condemned for using their status to call local party assemblies, which were effectively election rallies and candidate press conferences.
Opinion piece headlines published at Aporrea.com in the aftermath of the elections read: “The infiltrated right won”, “Grassroots steamrolled by machinery” and “So Dario [Vivas, PSUV mobilisation and propaganda coordinator], when will the internal campaign norms of the PSUV be applied?”.
Chavez, who raised criticisms about the campaigning process days before, asked in his weekly column published on the day of the election: “Was there ventajismo and abuse of power by some of the candidates or groups or tendencies that support them?
“In the hand moved by the most intimate consciousness of each one of you, compatriots, is the sacred decision of carrying out justice wherever it necessary, voting for those that are best [to continue the] socialist and Bolivarian project.”
At a meeting analysing the pre-selections, left-wing PSUV activist Fernando Soto Rojas said: “We continue to drag with us the vices of the past.”
Soto Rojas came third in the electorate he stood for, behind Robert Serra. Serra was recently parachuted in to coordinate the government-run house repair program.
Soto Rojas said those with “institutional support, a media presence and a more or less adequate discourse” were able to impose themselves in a contest where “programmatic debate was generally absent”.
Also ahead of Soto Rojas was Juan Contreras, a respected local community activist.
Contreras, who had said the primaries were a “trap”, denounced the “grotesque and vulgar ventajismo”.
Unless “we bury the old culture” plagued with vices like corruption, he said, “we will end up with more of the same”.
More political debate, education and organisation were needed to defeat “the right wing that is embedded in the party”, he said.
However, discontented party militants argued that, despite problems, the PSUV had entered a new phase. They said it was necessary to “close ranks” to defend the process and defeat the opposition in the September elections.
Soto Rojas said the declaration of principles approved by the recent PSUV Extraordinary Ideological Congress would be key. The declaration defines the PSUV as anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, socialist and internationalist.
Soto Rojas said it was the duty of all PSUV activists to reach beyond the 2.5 million “hardcore Chavistas” that voted in the primaries and ensure the revolutionary forces win 6-7 million votes in September.
A recent poll by pro-government firm GIS XXI found if elections were held now, the PSUV would win with 32.3% against 21.9% for the opposition. A further 35.8% were undecided.