Venezuela court decisions shake up 2 small parties
Fri, 08 Jun 2012 9:48p.m.
By Jorge Rueda
Venezuela's Supreme Court has issued decisions shaking up the leadership of two small political parties, apparently preventing them from backing opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
Capriles condemned the court decisions on Thursday, saying that President Hugo Chavez's government is resorting to desperate tactics to keep the parties Podemos and PPT from supporting his candidacy. Both used to be pro-Chavez but have in recent years moved to the opposition.
Chavez's critics have repeatedly accused the president of wielding undue influence over the judiciary and using it to go after his adversaries. Chavez has denied those accusations.
"Only those who are desperate resort to judicial tricks!," Capriles said in one of several messages on Twitter. "Whatever they do, the majority of the bases of those political organisations are with us."
The Supreme Court said in a statement on its website Thursday that it had decided to recognize former pro-Chavez state governor Didalco Bolivar as the leader of Podemos, rather than established leader Ismael Garcia, a vocal government critic.
A similar ruling in the case of PPT was announced by the court on Wednesday. It voided the party's most recent internal elections, which were carried out in October, and ordered it to hold new elections within 90 days.
The decisions appear to prevent the parties from backing Capriles before a Monday deadline for parties to specify the presidential candidate they will support. Capriles and Chavez both plan to formally sign up as candidates on Sunday and Monday, respectively, as they prepare for the Oct. 7 presidential vote.
Leaders of the two small parties could not immediately be reached for comment. Podemos broke with Chavez's government in 2007. PPT, which in Spanish stands for Fatherland For All, similarly has irked Chavez's government by defecting from its camp.
The court's decisions drew criticism from others as well. Gustavo Hernandez Acevedo, a blogger writing on the website Caracas Chronicles, said the ruling "showcases just how far Hugo Chavez is willing to go to punish those he sees as traitors."
In the case of Podemos, the Supreme Court said in a statement that it had decided to review an earlier decision by its Electoral Chamber, which in March had denied a challenge by Bolivar to an agreement by party leaders to postpone internal elections.
The court said that Bolivar will lead the party "until the current case is dealt with in depth." That means Bolivar is to have the last word on which candidate the party will back in the presidential election, and he is expected to support Chavez.
On the ballot in Venezuela, candidates' photos typically appear along with the symbols of parties that back them.
Bolivar, a former governor of Aragua state, previously faced corruption charges and has changed political loyalties. He split with Chavez in 2007 when the governor refused to participate in the president's plan for various parties to join together in a single pro-government party.
In 2009, Bolivar was summoned for arraignment on corruption charges and sought asylum in Peru, saying he was being targeted for political reasons. He then returned to Venezuela in August 2011 saying he would face justice. He was jailed but later freed.
Since his return to Venezuela, Bolivar has repeatedly expressed support for Chavez.
Capriles has the backing of a coalition of opposition parties. He was chosen in a February primary to be the opposition's single challenger to take on Chavez.
The leftist president, who was first elected in 1998, is seeking another six-year term. He has recently scaled back his public appearances after undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, and the race so far has been dominated by speculation about whether his illness may interfere with his re-election bid.
Capriles has been trailing in the polls, with survey results varying widely. Some polls touted by the government have given Chavez a lead of more than 20 percentage points, while others indicate a smaller margin for the president, some less than 5 percentage points.
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