In a move to consolidate their efforts against the current government, Venezuela’s opposition is holding a primary to determine their representative for the 2024 presidential race. This initiative is organized independently, without the assistance of the National Electoral Council, which is led by a staunch supporter of President Nicolás Maduro. Maduro, who has held the presidential office since 2013, is anticipated to seek another term in the upcoming election.
The opposition believes that their most promising strategy to defeat Maduro is to rally behind a single candidate. Historically, opposition parties have abstained from participating in presidential elections, citing reasons such as the imprisonment of their candidates or disqualification from running. However, they are gearing up to compete in 2024, even amidst concerns of an uneven playing field.
The idea of hosting a primary was introduced as early as May 2022 and was formally declared in October 2022. However, their plea for the National Electoral Council’s support in organizing the primary remained unanswered until September 2023. The Council, predominantly consisting of government loyalists, proposed postponing the primary until November. Rejecting this suggestion, the opposition took matters into their own hands, setting up over 3,000 polling stations for voters.
Initially, 13 candidates were in the fray, but the list has since been reduced to 10. Notable figures like Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, Freddy Superlano of the Popular Will party, and Roberto Enríquez of the Copei party, have withdrawn from the race. Current polls indicate that the leading contender is María Corina Machado, a 56-year-old former legislator. However, her potential candidacy is shrouded in uncertainty as she has been prohibited from holding office for 15 years. Despite this, Machado remains optimistic, believing that a win in the primary could exert enough pressure on the government to reinstate her.
A recent agreement between opposition negotiators and government representatives in Barbados remains vague on this issue. While the opposition negotiator interprets it as a green light for disqualified candidates to run, the government’s delegation leader contradicts this view. In response to this agreement, the US has relaxed some sanctions on Venezuela’s oil and gas sector. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has cautioned that these sanctions could be reinstated if bans on opposition presidential candidates are not lifted by the end of November.