María Corina Machado is emerging as the opposition leader in Venezuela

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Liberal María Corina Machado is emerging as the winner of the opposition primary elections held this Sunday in Venezuela, when voting centers begin to close.

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Experts estimate that around 1.5 million people have participated so far in this internal process, organized by the opposition itself by discarding the technical assistance of the National Electoral Council (CNE) after months of evasion by this authority, which finally proposed at last minute postpone the process for a month to manage it.

This brought logistical problems, such as delays in the definition of centers (mostly in parks, squares, businesses and even private homes) as well as the accreditation of members and witnesses. The results must be announced late at night.

"Come on, old lady!" shouted Machado's followers with a typical expression of celebration in Venezuela. as the scrutiny of the tables in a center located in a commercial neighborhood of Caracas ended. Unlike the automated electoral system that governs elections organized by the authorities, the counting in the opposition primary was manual.

Of the 241 votes at the table, 1,213 went to Machado, a 56-year-old Industrial Engineer, a strong opponent of Chavismo, who appeared as a favorite in all the polls. At the next table, the same thing: "María Corina Machado, María Corina Machado, María Corina Machado...", one of the table members was singing, reading each ballot, while another wrote down with a marker on a piece of paper.

"Until the end! Long live Venezuela free!" Nilsa Correa, 53, celebrated, using Machado's slogan. "She goes to the end, that disqualification is a lie (...) and she will overcome that."

Machado is disqualified from holding public office for 15 years, which in theory would prevent her from registering his candidacy for next year's presidential elections. The primary is held five days after the signing of an agreement within a negotiation process between the government and opposition, which set the presidential elections for the second half of next year with observation by the European Union and other international actors.

The United States responded by easing oil sanctions against the country for six months, although it conditioned it on the lifting of disqualifications, a thorny issue on which Chavismo does not want to give in.

"We are being part of a citizen's history and what we have seen today is a citizen avalanche inside and outside of Venezuela," Machado said in a press conference prior to the announcement of results.

The primary was also held in 28 countries. Many voting centers remained open after 4:00 p.m. local time when the closure was stipulated. Venezuela by law does not allow the closure of tables while there are voters there waiting to vote. In popular neighborhoods, traditionally bastions of Chavismo, thousands of people lined up to participate.

For example, a center was installed in the middle of the avenue in front of a residence. About 1,000 people waited to vote under a heavy afternoon downpour, protecting themselves with umbrellas and cardboard.

"They kicked us out of school and moved us here because some people protested, supposedly threw stones, and well here we are," said merchant Luigi Pellegrino, 59, who had been in line for six hours.

Machado said that voting centers in at least four states in the country ran out of ballots when there were still no voters in line. "It is an unequivocal demonstration of the force that has been deployed today," he said.


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