Falcon cuts divisive figure in Venezuela's election
Henri Falcon, the main opponent to unpopular President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela's presidential election, is in the unusual position of being unloved by both Maduro's ruling socialists and the main opposition alike.
Falcon, 56, rejected calls from the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) this weekend to join their boycott of the May 20 election, insisting his victory would end Venezuela's diplomatic isolation.
"Once we change this government, rest assured that we will be recognized by the international community and we will rescue relations with our allies," he told reporters.
But analysts say the main problem for Falcon, a 56-year old former mayor and state governor who defected from the ruling socialists in 2010, is that he is seen as a traitor by both the opposition and the government.
"Falcon has generally shown a predisposition to play by the government's rules and has been one of the fiercest advocates of electoral participation," said Risa Grais-Targow of Eurasia Group.
That has flown in the face of the four main opposition parties who make up the MUD, who dismiss the election as a farce and Falcon as a Maduro puppet.
"Without a doubt, the government needs Henri Falcon, it needs a relatively well-known figure to participate," Venezuela analyst Andres Canizales told AFP.
"He is playing a risky game, trying to form a political center distinct from Chavism and the radical opposition," he said.
As a former leading light of Chavism, the brand of populist leftist ideology left behind by former president Hugo Chavez and championed by Maduro, Falcon is a divisive figure within the opposition who is tarnished by his socialist past.
"Falcon is percieved by many opposition voters as being co-opted by the government, and thus his candidacy will probably discourage turnout," said Grais-Targow.
-- Unifying the opposition? --
The retired army officer set about mending fences with the rest of the opposition immediately after declaring his candidacy, calling on Friday for talks and urging them to understand "that the enemy is not Henri Falcon -- who is the one next to you -- but the one opposite you."
He said the opposition's woes were self-inflicted, pointing to infighting that has stolen momentum from the four main parties in the coalition, even at a time when Maduro is deeply unpopular. Two key leaders, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez, have been banned from running.
"We are going to unite under a single slogan, to save Venezuela. We will win to overcome a situation of generalized hunger to revive the economy," he pledged in a speech carried on state television last week.
He referred to Maduro as "the hunger candidate" -- a reference to his disastrous management of the economy that has brought about a crippling recession marked by widespread food and medicine shortages.
Falcon has previously fought a presidential campaign, though not as a candidate. He was Capriles' election manager when he narrowly lost to Maduro in 2013.
"Where is the use in not voting?" The elections are on the 20th. What happens on the 21st? What's the plan?" he asked of those parties boycotting the election.
Opinion polls show support for Falcon running at 24 percent, with Maduro at 18 percent.
Falcon said he is confident of victory, pointing to polls showing that 70 percent of the population wants to vote in an oil-rich though impoverished country where support for the government is dwindling.
"Even if in theory he could beat Maduro as the lesser of two evils in a competitive contest, the government is likely to heavily manipulate the election, as they have in the past," said Grais-Targow.
Analyst Luis Salamanca pointed out that only last October, Falcon failed in his attempt to be re-elected governor of Lara state.
As a vote-winner, "he's in decline." His candidacy is "window-dressing that allows Maduro to say it is a competitive election," Salamanca said.
© 2018 AFP