While Venezuela’s Constitution says that the authorities as well as the candidates have to be elected in internal elections (Art. 67), this has seldom been the case and since most political parties are private clubs run by their founders, nobody complains much about it and the rules are not enforced by either the Electoral Board (CNE) or the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is another demonstration of the sorry state of the rule of law in Venezuela.
There have been efforts to elect authorities and candidates in the past, but many of them have led to parties splitting up or to rules being manipulated in such a way that the law was bypassed. The most notable example was the election for candidates in PSUV, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez basically had veto power if the candidate did not get over 50% of the votes in the primary. He not only exercised that power, but some losers were winners in the process and vice versa.
In 1994 Eduardo Fernandez held an open election for the candidate for his party COPEI, thinking that he was a cinch to win it. Oswaldo Alvarez Paz surprised him by beating him, but then lost the national election.
When Chávez ran for President, all of the candidates were “self-selected”, including Mr. Chávez, Salas Romer, Irene and Alfaro Ucero. Since then, there have been no primaries to select a candidate.
Thus, I think it is fantastic that Leopoldo Lopez held elections yesterday for his “movement” Voluntad Popular. Yes, it is “his” movement, but this may change some day, he just opened it to thousands of people and he will have to follow the same procedure in the future. Moreover, decisions will now be made by one coordinator per state and more than 7,000 candidates participated in the process. I am sure not all of them think alike and things will be discussed by groups of people and not just a few individuals.
I have always believed that the only way to change politics in Venezuela is to have more democracy in the political parties and movements. The step taken by Voluntad Popular is certainly a huge one and in the right direction. Hopefully, others will follow this and it will become the norm, rather than the exception.