Andreina Itriago Acosta and Patricia Laya, Bloomberg News
EnergiesNet.com 10 23 2023
Venezuela’s María Corina Machado took a commanding lead in an early count of Sunday’s after a demonstrative turnout, putting her in position to challenge President Nicolás Maduro in the most serious threat to the ruling socialist regime in at least a decade.
Machado had 93% of the vote with 26% tallied, according to Jesús María Casal, head of the primaries organizing committee. More than 2 million people cast ballots, braving sweltering heat, torrential rainshowers and a confusing polling system made worse when Maduro’s government blocked the website that showed where to vote.
Machado, 56, is campaigning for the late 2024 election on a platform of economic opportunity and political liberty, offering herself up as an alternative to Maduro’s state control and intolerance of dissent. “This is the beginning of the end,” she said in a victory speech shortly after midnight Caracas time. “We have proven to ourselves what we’re capable of doing. Venezuelans have broken through every barrier.”
An update of the vote count isn’t expected until much later in the morning Caracas time. If the results hold, they’ll solidify Machado’s leadership yet leave Venezuela’s opposition on an uncertain path, as Machado is currently banned from holding public office by the Maduro regime.
While the socialist leader restarted talks with the opposition last week intended to ensure a more competitive presidential race next year, there are questions over whether he will carry out the deep electoral reforms needed to allow the opposition to compete fairly.
The turnout of more than 2 million voters was fewer than the 3 million who voted in the 2012 opposition primary, though the country has shrunk by almost 8 million since then as the economy withered.
The outpouring of support for Machado will likely add pressure on the US to hold the ruling government to an agreement reached earlier this week, including inviting international organizations to observe the vote and allowing all qualified candidates — namely Machado — to participate. Maduro, 60, is widely expected to run for a third six-year term next year.
Machado, who describes herself as a centrist, wants to revive Venezuela’s battered economy through market-friendly policies and widespread privatization, including of the key oil sector. She would also seek to roll Venezuela’s massive debt pile into a single bond.
“We know she’s disqualified but we’re still here,” 69-year-old realtor Manuel Rangel said after voting for Machado in eastern Caracas. “It’s going to be a tremendous struggle, but there is an organized civil force that wants to move forward peacefully because we have already exhausted all avenues.”
Large crowds formed outside polling centers across Caracas on Sunday even after voters struggled to identify their polling centers. Some voters spent more than three hours in line to submit their ballots, braving the afternoon rain — and the risks that come with openly opposing a government that has brutally repressed protesters.
“People turned out in large numbers to vote, redefining the opposition as we know it,” said Benigno Alarcon, director of the political studies center at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. “The balance that had formed between a very powerful government and a weak opposition is shifting.”
The opposition decided to fund and run the primaries on its own once the government announced changes inside the electoral body. These included naming Elvis Amoroso, a close Maduro ally, as the body’s president. Amoroso was responsible for barring key opposition leaders from running, including Machado.
The count was slowed by more apparent interference late Sunday, when a server used in the tallying process was blocked. Casal said organizers were prepared for such incidents and had backups in place.
The long-awaited resumption of negotiations between Venezuela’s government and a coalition of the nation’s opposition may offer Machado a path to restore her eligibility. If she can’t, the agreement is likely to be criticized by democracy advocates for allowing Maduro to sideline his most popular competitor. US officials have said they expect to see a process in place by the end of November for banned candidates to restore their eligibility. If not, the temporary sanctions relief the US has granted could be rescinded, they said.
“We have an arduous road ahead,” Machado said in her victory speech. “But the bigger the obstacle they place in our way, the bigger they make us. We will overcome every single one.”
–With assistance from Nicolle Yapur and Fabiola Zerpa.
Energiesnet.com 10 22 2023