The ballot for congressional elections in which Venezuela’s ruling socialists face their stiffest challenge in 16 years is dizzying enough in this industrial state, with more than two dozen parties on the ballot. But most worrisome for incumbent Ismael Garcia, a fierce opponent of the deeply-unpopular socialist administration, is a 28-year-old parking lot attendant whose name will appear directly beside his on the ballot, under a nearly identical party title and logo. He, too, is named Ismael Garcia. And three weeks ahead of the Dec. 6 vote he has yet to make a public campaign appearance or even explain his platform. The result has been a bizarre campaign in which political veteran Ismael Garcia, 61, is mostly focused on helping voters identify him correctly when they go to the polls.
Opposition leaders say the race in Maracay is the most blatant example of a trick the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which has never lost a national election, is using in its effort to keep control of the National Assembly despite dismal poll ratings. With the world’s highest inflation, second-highest homicide rate, and a deepening recession, just 10 percent of voters say they are happy with how things are going. Polling suggests the opposition could win control of the 165-seat congress by a landslide.
“It shows how crazy and desperate the government has become. They have fake candidates posing as the opposition in almost every contest in the country,” the senior Ismael Garcia said, canvassing a neighborhood of low-slung cinderblock homes where he handed out fliers showing a mock-up of the ballot with a bright red arrow pointing to his name.