Venezuela's ruling party tests its organizing efforts ahead of next month's presidential election

CARACAS, Venezuela — (AP) — With its decades-long grip on power under threat, Venezuela’s ruling party on Sunday tested a voter organizing campaign aimed at shoring up President Nicolás Maduro's bid for a third term.

The assessment followed weeks of efforts by local organizers of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to increase support for Maduro. Each was tasked with adding into a database 10 voters who have promised to vote for Maduro in the highly anticipated July 28 presidential election.

Local organizers as well as voters who pledged their support were expected to receive verification phone calls Sunday. Organizers who had not yet entered voter information into the database due to lack of internet access or experience with databases received help at party meetings across the country.

On election day, local party leaders must ensure the voters they registered make it to the polls no matter what.

The effort to measure support comes as Chavistas — devotees of the late fiery leader Hugo Chávez — are no longer the reliable force that easily claimed electoral victories while the often divided opposition continues to work in unison.

The changes within each bloc have been driven primarily by the complex economic and political crisis that undid the country. As a result, the election is the biggest challenge faced by the ruling party since Chávez, Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, became president more than two decades ago and began what he described as Venezuela's socialist revolution.

“We are already approaching record numbers,” Maduro said Sunday evening without offering figures. “The level of organization that you have reached at this point is impressive.”

Maduro added that starting Monday, he wants “to see a quantitative and qualitative growth of demonstrations in each neighborhood, in each parish, in each community, in each municipality.”

People loyal to the ruling party control all branches of Venezuela’s government, and public employees are constantly pressured to participate in demonstrations. Each public employee is also being urged to register 10 pro-Maduro voters.

The local leaders who have been gathering names of expected Maduro voters coordinate various government programs, including the delivery of subsidized food. Some of those leaders in Caracas used the logs of the food program to identify people in their community they could add to the database of voters.

Venezuela's electoral body earlier this year set the presidential election for July 28, fulfilling one of the provisions of an agreement signed last year between Maduro's government and the U.S.-backed Unitary Platform opposition coalition.

Under the agreement, both sides vowed to work toward improving conditions for a free and fair election. But Maduro and his allies have continuously tested the limits of the accord, including by blocking the candidacy of the president's chief opponent, María Corina Machado, as well as of her chosen substitute.

Machado and the coalition are now backing former diplomat Edmundo González Urrutia.

Ahead of Sunday’s verification work, party members signaled that the information gathered through the organizing campaign would be carefully scrutinized.

National Assembly member Saul Ortega earlier this week told state television that the effort represents a “true survey” of the country and is “nothing other than the tracking of the vote” across Venezuela.

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