July 28, 2008
CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez angrily accused political allies of dividing his ruling coalition ahead of regional elections, saying Sunday that some dissidents are questioning his leadership.
Infighting is weakening the Patriotic Alliance -- a coalition of parties that have traditionally shown near-complete allegiance to Chávez -- and threatening to split the pro-Chávez vote in November's gubernatorial and municipal elections.
Chávez lambasted the coalition's smaller members, including Fatherland For All and Venezuela's Communist Party, for fielding candidates that could compete against hopefuls from his own ruling party in more than half of the 23 governorships up for grabs.
''They talk about unity, but they're risking division,'' Chávez said during his weekly broadcast program. ``Some of them don't recognize me as the leader. They won't say it publicly, but I know that they say it in private.''
Chávez created a new ruling party -- the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela -- last year to consolidate the coalition as he renewed his push toward socialism.
But a number of pro-Chávez parties declined to join it, preferring to maintain their autonomy, and now they complain of being sidelined.
''They only ask us about their candidates who we are willing to support. That's an attempt at subordination,'' said Oscar Figuera, secretary general of the Communist Party.
Building consensus for a single pro-Chávez candidate in every state has been impossible despite months of negotiations with the ruling party, prompting smaller parties to fend for themselves, said Andrea Tavares of Fatherland For All.
''We don't see an inclination toward unity within the ruling party, and we've said that sacrifices must be equal, that all revolutionaries must make sacrifices,'' Tavares said.
Venezuela's opposition is hoping to hand Chávez his second straight electoral defeat after voters said no last year to constitutional reforms that would have let the socialist leader run for reelection indefinitely.
Luíis Vicente León of the Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis said the infighting ''could complicate the situation for Chávez,'' but he noted that the opposition is also struggling to unite behind single candidates.