BARINAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Nicols Maduro on Sunday named a former foreign minister as his partys candidate for a special gubernatorial election in the home state of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chvez, that was scheduled after the opposition contender in Novembers regular contest was retroactively disqualified.
Maduro declared Jorge Arreaza as the ruling partys candidate via a livestream connected to a gymnasium in the rural state of Barinas packed with supporters who erupted in cheers as their new candidate promised them a comprehensive review of their communities needs.
The announcement came less than a week after the countrys highest court disqualified Freddy Superlano as he was leading the vote count, a move that has become emblematic of what the opposition says are unfair election conditions. The state in northwest Venezuela has long been considered a bastion of Chvismo., which made Superlanos potential win particularly hard to swallow for the ruling party.
Superlano was ahead by less than 1 percentage point in the Nov. 21 race against incumbent Argenis Chvez, one of Hugo Chvezs brothers, when he was disqualified. Argenis along with Adn Chvez and father Hugo de los Reyes Chvez have served as governors of the state of Barinas since 1998.
Leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela convened in Barinas this week to decide on a new candidate after Argenis Chvez announced his decision to resign as governor and not enter the race again. They needed a unifying candidate after many blamed the elections results on an internal rift.
(This is) giving a golden opportunity to the community of Barinas to go to a new gubernatorial election, Maduro told the crowd. I thanked him publicly in that private meeting for taking a step aside and facilitating the appointment of a new candidate to go to the electoral battle to go to the rescue and victory of the government of Barinas.
Venezuelas Supreme Court of Justice on Monday ruled that Superlano should not have been on the ballot because he had been disqualified over an administrative sanction imposed in August stemming from his work as a legislator between 2015 and 2020. The ruling did not explain why Superlanos participation was initially authorized while other candidates were kept out of the election.
The disqualification raised further doubts about the fairness of Venezuelas electoral system following the first vote in years in which most major political forces agreed to take part and which was monitored by observers from the European Union. Maduros government invited the monitors but later called them spies after they issued a preliminary report critical of the electoral system.
The court is one of many government bodies seen as loyal to the Maduro government.
While a Chvez wont be in the ballot Jan. 9, the man who founded the ruling socialist movement was ever present. Hugo Chvez was repeatedly mentioned in speeches, two large photos of him were on the gymnasiums stage and his connection to Arreaza was also highlighted.
Arreaza, who will face off Superlanos his wife, Aurora Silva, is the father of one of Hugo Chvezs grandchildren.
In November, what happened here is that we were overconfident, and suddenly, the division played a role in the decision, said Maria Jimenez, a local party leader. It is a call for the revolution to keep up to date. The state of Barinas is the cradle of the revolution.
The report from EU observers concluded the regional contests happened under better conditions compared to the countrys elections in recent years but were marred by the use of public funds and other actions meant to benefit pro-government candidates. The monitors also noted that the elections were tainted by the disqualification of opposition contenders.
Arreaza, who previously served as minister of industry, promised jobs and changes should he become elected.
The president instructed me to listen to everyone, and we are going to do so because it is necessary for all levels of government to listen to the people of Barinas, Arreaza said. It has a lot to say, it has a lot to criticize, and it has a lot to contribute as well.
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