Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 4 News List

ANALYSIS: Venezuela’s other candidate might shake up election

Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon speaks at a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday, at which he told reporters that an observation mission he requested from the UN to ensure the integrity of the elections has the support of the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Photo: EPA

At each other’s throats for two decades, militants of Venezuela’s socialist state and opposition seldom agree on anything. Yet mention the name of Venezuelan presidential candidate Henri Falcon, and both are liable to spit.

“Traitor!” cry socialist stalwarts, who cannot forgive the former state governor for breaking with their beloved late leader Hugo Chavez in 2010. “Chavista lite!” say opposition campaigners, always suspicious that Falcon came into their ranks as a Trojan horse.

Now that the 56-year-old former soldier is running for president in a May 20 election, both groups are united in scoffing at his chances.

After all, Falcon is up against not just Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, but also an election system widely considered unfair and an opposition boycott that would deprive him of votes.

And yet, a clutch of opinion polls show Falcon ahead, bolstering his campaign mantra that he is a natural transition candidate with appeal to a moderate majority fed up with political polarization and economic chaos.

Widely followed pollster Datanalisis, for example, put him more than 10 percentage points ahead in voter intentions.

“This government is finished,” Falcon told reporters, saying that few governments in history survived hyperinflation and economic chaos as seen during Venezuela’s ongoing crisis.

Opinion polls in Venezuela are often divergent, politicized and misleading in hindsight, but Falcon, his campaign team and some pundits think he might be able to create an avalanche as the campaign gets underway.

“If we really unite, get organized, construct a single narrative, and instead of discouraging people by asking them to abstain, we call them to vote, there’s no way this government can beat us,” Falcon said.

Despite such optimism and Maduro’s unpopularity on the streets, there appear to be plenty of ways for the government to assure victory.

It is ratcheting up welfare handouts and pressure on state workers, has skillfully fomented divisions within the opposition, barred Maduro’s two main rivals from standing, brazenly uses state resources in its campaigns and benefits from a compliant election board.

Board head Tibisay Lucena is on US, EU and Canadian sanctions lists, accused of violating democracy. Even the board’s chosen vote machine operator, UK-based Smartmatic, accused her institution of fraud in a vote last year.

“Though Falcon is twice as popular as Maduro and could beat him in a competitive race, the 20 May vote will not be competitive,” consultancy Eurasia Group wrote.

In line with his promise of a government of “national unity,” Falcon is reaching out to opposition leaders, such as former Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, to relax the boycott and join his campaign.

He has picked a Wall Street bank analyst, Francisco Rodriguez, to head his economic team and, in a nod to his former allies in the ruling “Chavismo” movement and a signal to the armed forces that they need not fear him, Falcon might keep Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino should he win, a campaign aide said.

However, to win, Falcon needs to convince voters in places such as La Vega, a poor hillside “barrio” of Caracas that is a traditional “Chavista” stronghold.

At a bread shop there, chatter revolved around impossibly high food prices and the growing migration of Venezuelans to Colombia. There was next to no enthusiasm either for Falcon or Maduro.

This story has been viewed 1655 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top