Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Primaries, anyone? 

It used to said in the United States that political parties chose their candidates in smoke filled rooms. That may or not still be true but regardless of how it is done there, it is certainly still done that way in Venezuela. The two main historical parties, A.D. and COPEI are very much run from the top down (with input from the media owners of course) and those who dare to suggest internal elections are often physically beaten up. New opposition parties are often even worse as they are largely the personal fiefdom of whatever meglomaniac founded. To the extent that there is even any debate in them it is resolved not by votes, or even consensus, but by the loser of the debate leaving and founding another political party.

The main pro-Chavez party, MVR, was to be different. After all its founding ideas revolved around participatory democracy. Yet, its record on this is at best mixed. For the local elections last summer it chose its candidates through primaries throughout Venezuela. This represented a huge step forward for Venezuelan politics as for almost the first time party members determined what candidates the party would run. Unfortunately, as big a step foward as that was later last year the MVR took a big step backwards by not allowing party members to chose the candidates for the National Assembly. Discontent over this lack of internal democracy was one of the contributing factors to low turnout in the legislative elections.

This schizophrenic attitute towards primaries, sometimes having them, sometimes not, seems to be continueing. In one of the municipalities, Carrizal, that didn't have its local elections with the rest of the country last summer they are now getting ready for elections. And how is the MVR chosing its candidates? Yes, through primaries. The primaries, in which they expect about 20,000 party members to vote, will be held this Thursday. The voters will chose between 7 different candidates.

So after having a big step foward there was a big step back. Now we are having at least a baby step foward. One can only hope this most basic example of participatory democracy is picked up, expanded, and used consistantly within the entire Chavista movement. Otherwise, the "participatory democracy" phrase that seems to roll off of so many Chavistas tongues every other sentence are nothing but empty words devoid of meaning.

P.S. And where is the opposition in all of this? Are they organizing their own primaries? Not a chance. Those meglomaniacs want nothing to do with an average Joe, or Juan, having a say in affairs of state. So while they may have primaries voting will probably be limited to those who own television networks or newspapers. The opposition remains a movement of the media, not a movement of the people.


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