By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) emerged from last Sunday's regional elections more or less unscathed in net terms at state level, according to an analysis of the results released by the National Electoral Council (CNE).
While the opposition gained control of three states – Carabobo, Miranda and Táchira – the PSUV still ended up in the saddle in 17 states, the same number it had held before the vote. The difference was that the PSUV picked up three states at the expense of smaller parties loyal to President Hugo Chávez.
Podemos, the social democratic party which crossed to the opposition in protest against Chávez' failed bid to reform the Constitution last year, lost Aragua and Sucre to the PSUV. Patria Para Todos (PPT) a minor partner in the governing coalition gave up its grip on Guárico.
Do not expect to see tears in eyes at the PSUV about any of this.
Beating Podemos must have been particularly sweet a year after the proposals for constitutional reform went down to a margin of about two percentage points in the referendum a little less than a year before.
Party activists at the PSUV blame Podemos' stance on constitutional reform for making the difference between win and loss at the referendum. This was Chávez' first electoral reverse since the voters put him into the presidency almost a decade ago.
Podemos became a dirty word in PSUV circles. In private, PSUV activists admit they've been itching to exact revenge ever since the referendum defeat.
As to PPT, its relationship with the PSUV became distinctly rocky during the run-up to the campaign. At issue was the nomination of pro-Chávez candidates, and it held that the PSUV was being too greedy in grabbing the lion's share of nominations not only for governor but further down the chain of command as well.
PPT argued that the high command at the PSUV was ignoring the smaller party's pulling power in some constituencies. The PSUV's answer to this was that they were coat-tailing on Chávez' charisma and popularity, and should stop nagging
Far from doing that, and even as it gave its backing to some PSUV candidates, PPT nominated its own contenders in half a dozen states. In half those states, PPT was partnered by the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), and in the others, Guárico among them, it went out on its own.
This was altogether too much for the hard men at PSUV headquarters. When Chávez originally found the PSUV to replace his old Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), his plan was for the smaller parties to join, too, forming a single monolithic machine of all his supporters.
Neither PPT nor the PCV took to this. The communists, in particular, were proud of their eight decades of history and position as the oldest political organization in Venezuela. They and PPT dug in the heels against the merger plan. Outsiders came to see PPT's uppity attitude about nomination of candidates as a sign of disunity in the normally well-ordered ranks of the Chávez camp.
And then trouble broke out with PPT in Guárico. The circumstances of what happened in Guárico were particular.
The incumbent governor, Eduardo Manuitt, was publicly shunned by Chávez some months before the election. He was told not even to think about running for re-election on the Chávez slate. So his daughter, Lenny, stood in his stead.
Lenny Manuitt's bid to succeed her father in the governorship was endorsed by PPT. It is also thought to have won some sympathy among more tactically minded members of the opposition. However, this was not enough for the opposition candidate, popular entertainer Reinaldo Armas, to withdraw from the race to leave Manuitt a clear run at the PSUV's Willian Lara.
Parachuting former Information Minister Lara in from central party headquarters in Caracas is said to have met with some resentment in local PSUV circles in Guárico. Insiders say there were some mutterings of dissent before Caracas cracked heads in the name of party unity.
All this was to no avail for Manuitt on the day of the vote. Manuitt got 33.46% (90,716 votes) and went down to Lara's 52.30% (141,798 votes) after a hard-fought campaign in which the PSUV party machine pulled out all the stops and she ended up on the defensive.
PPT had gotten pushy and now it's been punished. Perhaps it should consider the case of Governor José Gregorio Briceńo in Monagas state. He was elected four years ago on an independent ticket called El Gato (The Cat) and then signed on at the PSUV to campaign for re-election.
Briceńo strolled to a second term, scooping up 199,451 votes (64.77%) to crush the 46,718 votes (15.17%) for Domingo Urbina of the opposition and the 39,366 votes (12.78%) for Ramon Fuentes, an independent.