Venezuela’s María Corina Machado is projected to have a commanding lead in an early count of Sunday’s primary in a demonstrative turnout by opposition voters, putting her in position to challenge President Nicolás Maduro in general elections next year.
(Bloomberg) — Venezuela’s María Corina Machado is projected to have a commanding lead in an early count of Sunday’s primary in a demonstrative turnout by opposition voters, putting her in position to challenge President Nicolás Maduro in general elections next year.
Machado had 93%, or 550,000 votes, with 26% of total votes tallied, according to Jesús María Casal, head of the primaries organizing committee.
“This has been a real avalanche that shows our love for our country and the trust we have in its future,” Machado, 56, told reporters on Sunday.
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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 this 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 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.
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“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 even after voters struggled to identify their polling centers. Despite efforts to publicize the vote, the government blocked a website that informs citizens where to cast their ballot. Still, 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 dissidents.
“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.
Read More: Venezuela’s Government Resumes Talks With Maduro’s Opposition
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.
–With assistance from Nicolle Yapur and Fabiola Zerpa.
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