CARACAS -- When Venezuelan voters hit the ballot box this weekend, they will have 22 ways to vote for opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles — but four of them won’t work.
Late changes to the ballot might turn the day into a guessing game for voters after four political parties that previously supported Capriles changed their minds.
As a result, anyone who checks the Unidad Democrática box, which has a picture of Capriles, might actually be voting for Reina Sequera — a dark-horse candidate who has vowed to give every Venezuelan $1 million and free Internet access. Votes for three other parties, which also have Capriles’ picture, will result in nullified ballots.
‘RACE AGAINST TIME’
The confusion comes as this oil-rich nation of 30 million heads toward a tight and contentious race on Sunday.
President Hugo Chávez, 58, who first took power in 1999, is hoping to win another six-year term. Capriles, 40, the former governor of Miranda state, is hoping to score an upset.
While many polls show Chávez in the lead, others show the two men in a dead heat.
The four dissident parties — most of them small — pulled their support from Capriles earlier this month after a former ally accused him of secretly preparing a package of punishing economic reforms. Capriles denies those claims and says the accusations are part dirty government tactics.
While the law allows parties to swap out candidates up to 10 days before the vote, these changes were announced on the last possible day, said Dashiell López with Sumate, a voter advocacy group.
“We’re in a race against time to let people know which votes might not count or even go toward someone else,” López said. “This isn’t the first time there have been last-minute changes, but we weren’t expecting so many.”
The National Election Council, or CNE, would not comment on the ballot issue.
After years of defeat, Venezuela’s opposition parties held a primary early this year to choose a single candidate to face Chávez. As a result, 22 out of 39 political parties on the ballot have a mug shot of Capriles. Chávez has 12 spots on the ballot and five other candidates are sprinkled throughout.
The ballot changes could punish all the smaller parties backing Capriles, said Vicente Bello, the opposition’s representative to the election board.
“Come Sunday, I think people will focus on the parties they recognize and not the ones that are relatively obscure,” he said.
Still, the changes could produce some unsettling outcomes.
“Try this scenario on for size,” wrote the Caracas Chronicles blog. “It’s October 8th, and CNE announces Chávez won in a squeaker by 3,809 votes … and that ‘Reina Sequera’ got 7,387 votes on the Unidad Democrática card, which had [Capriles’] mug shot on it.”