Behind bars, on the ballot; ex-mayor wins Venezuela primary

AP News
Posted: May 18, 2015 1:45 PM
Behind bars, on the ballot; ex-mayor wins Venezuela primary

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Daniel Ceballos may be in jail, but he's also on the ballot for Venezuela's legislative elections.

The former San Cristobal mayor is among winners of Sunday's opposition coalition primary, in which voters chose 42 of the 167 candidates who will compete against the governing socialist party.

Ceballos was arrested last year for refusing to help the national government put down a wave of street protests fed in part by anger over crime, inflation and shortages. In a quirk of Venezuelan law, a win in the general election could spring the 31-year-old from military prison because legislators receive immunity from prosecution during their terms.

Another winner of Sunday's primary, Enzo Scarano, was recently released from the same prison, where he served time for involvement in the protests.

The general election later this year is the opposition's best chance in years to win a legislative majority. Coalition leaders are counting on the dissatisfaction that sent young people into the streets in 2014 to help them win decisively at the polls and begin the process of mounting a recall against President Nicolas Maduro.

The coalition now holds about a third of the South American country's legislature. Opposition parties have not captured a majority since Maduro's mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, won the presidency 16 years ago.

On Sunday, the moderate opposition party headed by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles won the most nominations. Most candidates for the general election will be selected in negotiations among leaders of the 29-party coalition. That election has not been scheduled, but Maduro's administration has pledged to hold it in late November or early December.

Polls show that if the general election were held today, the opposition would clobber the socialist party.

But a turnout of just 7 percent on Sunday suggests that most voters are not focused on the coming contest. The opposition movement has struggled to mobilize people who may be dissatisfied with the government, but are distracted by the daily struggles of life amid shortages and soaring inflation.

The ruling party has repeatedly boasted it will beat the opposition.

The head of Venezuela's legislature, Diosdado Cabello, joked that loneliness was the only thing found at polling centers during the opposition primary. The governing party will hold its primary elections next month, with twice as many seats up for grabs.

Ceballos' wife, Patricia, who won her husband's mayoral post in a landslide after his arrest, thanked voters late Sunday for supporting her family.

"We appreciate the courage of the people, who overcame fear, apathy and tyranny to express their hope for a free country," she said on Twitter.


Follow Hannah Dreier on Twitter: