CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s ruling socialists held primaries on Sunday ahead of December’s parliamentary election they are forecast to lose due to a biting recession and discontent with the late Hugo Chavez’s uncharismatic successor.
The South American country is suffering shortages of basic goods ranging from spare parts to milk and medicines, annual inflation possibly in the triple-digits, and unchecked violent crime.
Low-income “Chavistas” who benefit from oil-fueled social programs now also spend hours in queues for scarce goods and see their salaries gobbled up by roaring inflation.
“The revolution doesn’t work like it used to. You don’t feel that emotion anymore,” said a teacher at a state-run school in a low-income part of Caracas, who is disappointed with President Nicolas Maduro, the former bus driver and union leader she helped elect in 2013.
Still, the 50 year-old woman who asked not to be named, was voting on Sunday, in part because she fears for her job if she does not support the government.
The growing ranks of disillusioned ruling party supporters means the opposition has its strongest shot in over a decade at recouping the National Assembly in the Dec. 6 vote.
However, the opposition has struggled to articulate policy proposals and its often wealthy politicians fail to connect with normal Venezuelans.
The government also boasts a remarkable state propaganda machine, electoral district geography seen as favorable, and institutions filled with supporters.
Maduro said on Sunday voting booths could stay open through the night if necessary, adding he had the right to know who had voted and who had not.
To be sure, hardcore supporters who blame right-wing foes for engineering the economic crisis remain fiercely loyal.
“I’m a die-hard voter,” said Marcos Mirabal, 77, who proudly displays a Chavez figurine in his coconut store in the 23 de Enero hillside slum.
Candidates include former ministers, Chavez’s brother, an ex-military intelligence head briefly detained in Aruba last year over U.S accusations of drug-trafficking, and Mister Venezuela 2014.
The electoral board mandated this week that a minimum of 40 percent of parliamentary candidates be women.
An outraged opposition, who held its primaries last month and is now scrambling to get enough female candidates to meet the new requirement, slammed the move as an illegal last-minute change designed to stave off defeat.
Socialist candidates would only pocket 21.3 percent of votes for the National Assembly versus the opposition’s 40.1 percent, a recent survey by pollster Datanalisis showed.
With Maduro’s popularity down at 25.8 percent according to Datanalisis, some government campaigns appear to be lowering the visibility of the leader who commands nothing of the messiah-like allure of his mentor Chavez.
Their election song, for instance, features popstar Daniella Cabello, daughter of National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, who passionately croons about Chavez and the Socialist Party.
Unlike his predecessor, however, Maduro is not mentioned in the song or featured in the video.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Diane Craft