Monday, September 11, 2006

But will they hold primaries? 

Much has been made of Hugo Chavez’s announcement over the weekend that all the different political parties supporting Chavez are supposed to commit hari-kari and somehow form one big happy party. Given that I have no vested interest in Chavez’s own MVR party, or his other supporting parties like the PPT, Podemos, the PCV (Venezuelan Communist Party) or the Tupamaros I am finding it difficult to care about this one way or another.

But there is one interesting aspect to this and that is it could force everyone to revisit an issue near and dear to my heart - that of internal party democracy and primaries. I’m sure most readers are aware that the six year old Venezuelan constitution very specifically states that candidates for elected office are to be chosen via internal elections (primaries) in their respective political parties. This was very deliberately included in the constitution in an effort to change the longstanding habit in Venezuela of political parties being nothing more than the appendage of a few powerful individuals who decided everything behind closed doors. I am in complete agreement with the intent of that part of the constitution.

Unfortunately it has been almost completely ignored. Save for candidates for local office by the Chavez led MVR party a couple years ago there have been essentially no internal elections to chose candidates. The pro-Chavez candidates for the National Assembly last year were picked behind closed doors by the upper echelons of the MVR (maybe even just by Chavez himself) much to my chagrin. Chavez is now running for re-election as president. And who decided that he should be the candidate? I think he did – as there weren’t any primaries the actual members of the party weren’t consulted (that he would have easily won any primary is irrelevant). His main opponent is Manuel Rosales. How was he chosen? Not many people know as it was decided behind closed doors. Not even members of his own political party, Un Nuevo Tiempo, had a say in it. This is all a pretty sad state of affairs to my mind.

During a previous election I was discussing this with an opposition supporter and pointed out to her that if the constitution were to be strictly adhered to the election should have been cancelled as none of the candidates had followed the constitutionally mandated process of being chosen through internal party elections. This person, being a good opposition sophist, retorted that the candidates didn’t actually represent parties, but rather coalitions of parties, and where therefore exempted from the primary requirement. And while I have never heard any Chavistas make similar arguments I suppose they must agree with it – how else could they explain their ignoring the constitution?

Personally I think that is an argument that only a paid sophist, i.e. a lawyer, could buy. But I suppose some could find it convincing. That is where this move to one party by the pro-Chavez forces could get interesting. If there is indeed only one political party, then people running for office are clearly candidates of only that party rather than some amorphous concept like a “coalition” and it is very clear that there must be internal party elections to chose candidates. At that point people have to put their cards on the table. Either they believe in democracy and believe in the constitution or they don’t. Their decision to hold or not hold primaries will tell us all which it is.

Again, I am neither for nor against the merging of parties to create a solid political front. But I am very much for democracy. So if this new party is run from the bottom up, great. But if it continues with the tradition of being parties being run from the top down, then there will indeed be a need for a “revolution within the revolution”.


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