Capriles Says Venezuela's Opposition Planning February Primaries

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s Henrique Capriles Radonski said groups within the fragmented political opposition are trying to organize primaries to elect a new leader that could happen as soon as February.

Capriles Says Venezuela's Opposition Planning February Primaries

As the country prepares for presidential elections next year, a unified head would benefit the demoralized opposition following losses in local and regional elections in which President Nicolas Maduro’s party won by a landslide. The coalition is at its lowest point in years as Maduro wields his control over institutions and public coffers to stymie his opponents just four months after major street protests appeared to threaten his presidency.

“We have to get this rolling,” Capriles said Wednesday in an interview in Caracas. “It will be an opportunity to unite people, let them decide and not feel like a candidate is being imposed on them.”

The government has yet to set a date for the 2018 presidential vote and has even threatened to delay the process until the opposition successfully lobbies the U.S. government to remove sanctions. In addition to that, it’s unclear if the opposition would be able to secure guarantees to participate in a free and fair election with international observers as the current electoral board is stacked with government loyalists.

Capriles has already challenged the ruling socialist party for the presidency twice, losing the 2012 election to Hugo Chavez by 11 percentage points then to his handpicked successor in a disputed and controversial vote less than a year later. This year, the 45-year-old former governor of Miranda state, was banned from holding public office for 15 years.

He’s among several politicians disqualified by the ruling socialists. In 2008, the comptroller banned, Leopoldo Lopez, a renowned opposition figure currently under house arrest, from holding office for a decade on corruption allegations.

The reinstatement of political rights for politicians like Capriles and Lopez is among the demands by an opposition delegation set to meet with government representatives in Santo Domingo starting tomorrow. Other demands include a new electoral board, the freeing of political prisoners and a date for the elections. The government, for its part, wants recognition for an all powerful constituent assembly pushed through by Maduro by loyalists earlier this year and help removing the sanctions that have restricted financing options.

Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow wrote in a report that while the government may end up making some concessions like allowing the opposition to select a member of the electoral board or setting an electoral timeline, it will ultimately keep its institutional advantages to maintain power.

“It’s been suggested that the government should respect the candidate chosen by the opposition. If I participate, and win, they should respect that process,” Capriles said. “In free and democratic elections, it’s not the government who chooses a candidate, it’s the opposition that does, through primaries.”

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