Venezuela’s Machado wins opposition primary ahead of 2024 elections

Industrial engineer and former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado addresses supporters as she reacts to the vote count, after Venezuelans voted in a primary to choose a unity opposition candidate to face Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in his probable re-election bid in 2024, in Caracas, Venezuela October 23, 2023. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

The early results of the presidential primary in the Venezuelan opposition have shown a substantial lead for former legislator María Corina Machado, who promptly declared herself the candidate to end Nicolás Maduro’s crisis-ridden presidency, which has lasted for a decade.

The independent National Primary Commission, responsible for organising the election, reported that approximately 93% of the initial 601,110 counted ballots favoured Machado, who had entered the race as a strong frontrunner. The remaining votes were spread among the other nine candidates, with no indication of the total voter turnout. Organisers were expected to release further results in the next days, but a surprise victory of another candidate is now deemed unlikely.

Machado addressed her supporters gathered outside her campaign headquarters in Caracas, talking about the significant forces that had been set in motion and the obstacles they had overcome, praising the Venezuelans turning out to vote despite challenging weather conditions.

Despite this display of unity and civic engagement, there is uncertainty about the primary’s ultimate impact. Although the government had agreed in principle to allow the opposition to select its 2024 presidential candidate, they have already disqualified Machado from running for office. She is barred from public office over her support of the sanctions on Maduro’s government and would not be able to register for the general election.

On election day, hundreds of people lined up at voting centres across Caracas, enduring adverse weather conditions. They came prepared with umbrellas, folding chairs, and refreshments to make the expected wait more manageable. Many voters expressed their hope that the primary would be the salvation for their country, their children, and the millions of Venezuelans who have left due to economic and political turmoil.

Opposition leaders underscored the significance of the primaries, highlighting its role in compelling opposition leaders and parties to engage with the public and generate enthusiasm among a population that had grown skeptical of the opposition’s leadership, after the resounding failure of Juan Guaido.

Earlier this year, the Venezuelan opposition formally terminated the “presidency” and the “interim government” of its former leader, Juan Guaido, as the 40-year-old politician was unable to effect a change of power in Caracas, despite receiving strong international support. This backing gradually waned as it became evident that Guaido would not succeed in removing President Nicolás Maduro from office.

Just a few weeks ago, Venezuelan prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Guaido, levying charges of treason, usurpation of office, money laundering, and association to commit crimes, among others. Guaido vehemently refutes these allegations, asserting that they are politically motivated fabrications. Currently, he is in exile in the United States, having been forced out of Colombia earlier this year.

The presidential election is expected in the second half of 2024. Nicolás Maduro is seeking to extend his presidency until 2030, surpassing the duration of his mentor, Hugo Chávez, who governed and implemented his self-described socialist policies.

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