Elections 2023: María Corina Machado sweeps the opposition primaries in Venezuela

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María Corina Machado won the opposition primaries in Venezuela this Sunday and is emerging as Nicolás Maduro's main competitor in the 2024 presidential elections. Machado, as the polls indicated, had no rival and obtained 93% of the votes with 26% of the scrutiny, in a consultation that was held simultaneously in Venezuela and 28 other countries. “Today is not the end, but it is the beginning of the end,” said Machado shortly after learning the results.

The vote took place normally, despite all the logistical problems that arose, such as the difficulty in finding each voter's table. It was a consultation self-managed by the opposition itself, without any technical support, but the challenges were resolved as they went along and nothing deterred thousands of Venezuelans who waited in long lines under the sun or the rain to cast their vote.

Machado's victory is a first great victory for the opposition, which has managed to move forward with the process and choose a candidate of unity, but it opens a big question. The politician was disqualified in June by the Comptroller General of Venezuela (CGV) from running for elected office for 15 years. The CGV argued in 2015, the date on which she was incapacitated for the first time, that she had not included in her asset declaration some bonuses that she received as a deputy - Machado denies this is the case. That sanction from eight years ago was expanded this year because, supposedly, the politician defended the United States sanctions on Venezuela. This last judicial decision coincided with the takeoff of her candidacy, in another example of Chavismo putting a stop to her opponents with legal tricks.

In any case, the doubt is on the table. Will Machado be able to register as a candidate in the presidential elections? It's hard to answer right now. In the agreement reached by the Unitary Platform of Venezuela and the Chavista Government in Barbados last week, it was specified that authorization “for all candidates and political parties” will be promoted for next year's elections, but it is not at all clear. That's going to be like that. The Government has already moved away from the possibility of lifting the disqualifications, although we will have to wait for the result of pressure from Washington, which has just announced the temporary lifting of sanctions on Venezuelan oil, gold and gas, and which will only It will expand if Chavismo favors the path towards fair elections in 2024. Machado is not a rival that Chavismo likes. In the polls she surpasses Maduro himself in popularity, sunk in discredit due to the country's agonizing crisis, and her candidacy has breathed a wave of encouragement into a large part of Venezuelan society.

The desire for change brought Venezuelans to the streets, even in the cities, regions and neighborhoods that were bastions of Chavismo until very recently. Up to 21 million people were called to vote. The organizers overcame delays in the delivery of electoral materials and some scattered confrontations with Chavista bases that managed to dissuade some tables from being set up, amid much confusion about the location of the voting centers.

The opposition organized them at their own risk after the little interest they showed to the National Electoral Council (CNE) - where Chavismo is the majority - and did not even have coverage from the national media, pressured by the Government to ignore the process. The election was also rejected by a part of the opposition - although a minority - who believed that the conditions were not met to hold a consultation of this magnitude with guarantees. But no brakes could handle a massive influx, which forced the day to be extended several hours after the polls closed due to the long queues recorded. The results were expected around ten p.m. local time, but internet servers began to fail hours after the voting centers closed, delaying the counting and publication of results. The first bulletin was offered after midnight, with 26% of the vote, and showed that the policy had no rival. The second most voted was Carlos Prosperi, with 4.75% of the votes.

The primaries have been held at a time of understanding between the United States and Venezuela. In Barbados, the Chavista Government and the opposition agreed to hold the presidential elections in the second half of 2024, as established by the constitutional calendar. Until now, Chavismo had refused to set a date. Other agreements were reached, such as the need to invite technical electoral observation missions and the last agreed point on rights and political guarantees was to respect the results of the presidential elections. Washington interpreted all this as progress and announced that it was easing sanctions, waiting for Maduro to take more steps towards democracy. Hours later, the Government of Caracas released five political prisoners. In just 24 hours, the negotiation made more progress than in the entire last year.

These announcements, although they have already occurred with little success in the past, nevertheless renew the hopes of Venezuelan society, which has been in political paralysis for years, concerned more with surviving the day-to-day life of the crisis than with inventing a new way to get rid of Chavismo. The victory of the primaries, beyond that of Machado, is that of having taken to the streets en masse to elect a competitor of Maduro and recover the electoral path, after years of doubts among the opposition about their participation or not in the elections organized by the Government.

The road ahead is still long and will be full of difficulties. Machado has the support of the citizens, but although all the opposition parties promised to respect the result, the candidate maintains a difficult relationship, and in many cases null, with other leaders of the democratic forces. The politician is considered the radical wing of the opposition, she defends privatizations and the economic reduction of the State, in addition to leading the hard line against Chavismo for years, which sought the end by force of Maduro with the help of the United States. , a thesis that gained momentum during Donald Trump's mandate, but never went beyond being anything more than an ideation.

Now, the candidate is determined to oust Chavismo through electoral means, but it is not known what she will do if the Government prevents her registration in the presidential elections. Other opposition leaders, such as the also disqualified Henrique Capriles, defend that if authorization is not achieved, another unity candidate would have to be chosen who can compete and sweep the polls to beat Maduro. But all that debate will open tomorrow. Today Venezuelans celebrate the success of primary elections that enormous difficulties put in doubt until the last moment.

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