Venezuela’s rival camps gear up for high-stakes regional vote

Caracas, Venezuela – After months of violent protests, the streets of the Venezuelan capital have quieted down in recent weeks.

Now, both the government and the opposition are focusing their energy on Sunday’s regional elections, hoping to show their strength in the ballots.

“We have to vote,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles told supporters. “The way out of our problems is that on Sunday we go out to vote en masse.”

But it won’t be easy. Many opposition supporters are disappointed, having previously believed that their protests would have led to some type of change.

“Honestly, I don’t know what to think about what will happen,” Manuel, a singer in Caracas, told Al Jazeera.

“I thought that the government would give in to some of our demands – if not presidential elections, something else. But every time they have a new trick under the sleeve.”

One of the tricks that Manuel refers to was the July vote for a Constitutional Assembly, a legislative super body tasked with drafting a new constitution which also has power over other branches of government.

For President Nicolas Maduro, this is a way to deepen the revolution of ex-president Hugo Chavez and turn Venezuela into a true socialist state.

But for the opposition, this is a way of taking power away from the opposition-controlled National Assembly and the termination of the separation of powers in the country.

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles (C) speaks to reporters on Friday [Federico Parra/ AFP/Getty Images]

World watching

Sunday’s vote is long overdue – it should have taken place in December 2016.

For the opposition, these elections are a chance to win some governorships and test the ground in advance of presidential elections scheduled for next year.

The government is aware that the world will be watching.

“There is international pressure and for the government this is a way of trying to save face and saying that this is not a dictatorship, that there are elections,” Margarita Lopez Maya, a professor at the University of Central Caracas, told Al Jazeera. “

“They have destroyed the institutions in this country.”

Polling stations relocated

On Friday night, Capriles headed to dozens of voting centres in Miranda state after reports that many of them had been relocated.

“This was a centre that until last night had voting machines,” said Capriles during one of his stops.

“The military was protecting it and now, out of the blue, they shut it down and moved it somewhere else … Nobody notified the ones voting this Sunday.”

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Capriles believes this is part of a government strategy to discourage people in a state that has traditionally voted for the opposition from heading to the polls.

The government rejects the accusation and has told international observers that everything is on track for Sunday’s vote.

“Relocating voting centres is completely constitutional – nobody is breaking the law,” Adan Chavez, brother of the late president, told Al Jazeera.

“It was announced by the electoral council. What was decided is that in the places where there were some incidents in the past they decided to move them and that is legal.”

Key vote

Even though many of the traditional observers have not been accredited, the opposition believes that their witnesses at the voting centres will play a crucial role in ensuring the election results are credible.

But there is also another issue.

Maduro has said that the governors elected on Sunday will have to be “sworn in and subordinate themselves” to the Constitutional Assembly or face dismissal.

Capriles and his supporters say that those attributions belong to the opposition-controlled Congress, even though the government has stopped acknowledging it a long time ago. 

“The opposition likes to talk as if they are democrats, but they forget that they were part of a coup in the past, and if they could they would get rid of a constitutionally elected president. They never acknowledged Maduro,” a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela told Al Jazeera.

The truth is that nobody here seems willing to negotiate.

In spite of the irregularities, the government insists the election will be free and fair.

The opposition will be hoping for some big gains, and if there are any doubts over the way the vote is run demonstrators will likely take to the streets again.

Source : Al Jazeera

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