On Sunday, Venezuela’s opposition parties held their first primary in 11 years to select a candidate to face current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in the 2024 presidential election.
Here is all we know about the Venezuelan opposition primary, and why it matters.
What happened at the primary?
Opposition politicians held the primary without state assistance after the National Electoral Council took months to respond to a request for logistical help. Venezuelans voted using paper ballots instead of electronic machines in voting centres at homes, churches, private schools and other facilities.
A poll earlier this month by the Venezuela-based research firm Delphos indicated more than half of people identified as likely to participate did not know where to vote.
What’s at stake?
Last week, Venezuela’s government and a faction of the opposition formally agreed to work together to reach a series of basic conditions for the next presidential election. The government and the opposition said in a joint agreement that each side can choose its candidate according to its own internal rules.
The primary could be a chance for the opposition to rally support from voters in Venezuela, whose economy has been in deep crisis for years.
What is a banned candidate?
Officials who are found guilty of corruption are banned from holding public office for up to 15 years.
Venezuela’s opposition says the government uses bans unlawfully to prevent them from competing in elections.
Two of the 13 originally registered candidates for the primary have dropped out because they were barred from holding public office.
Who is Maria Corina Machado?
Maria Corina Machado is an opposition member of the Venezuelan National Assembly, a free-market advocate, and an adversary of Venezuela’s leftist government.
Despite being barred from holding public office, Machado, 56, has chosen to stay in the race.
The industrial engineer and former lawmaker has been barred for 15 years since June. This is due to her support for United States sanctions on the Maduro government and her backing of former opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Has anyone won the primary?
While the final results are still pending, Machado is leading the polls, tallying 93 percent of the vote, with over 26 percent of ballot boxes counted.
The count – delayed due to a server blockage – was expected to continue on Monday. It was unclear when the next results update would be given.
Machado’s nearest rival, former lawmaker and democratic action candidate Carlos Prosperi, had 4.75 percent of the vote. Machado has claimed victory, saying that she has a mandate to take on Maduro.
How is the relationship between Venezuela and the US shaping this vote?
The US eased sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in response to the deal reached between the government and opposition parties for the 2024 election. These sanctions were especially tightened back in 2019 under former US President Donald Trump.
The US has insisted that Maduro’s government lift the ban on opposition candidates contesting in the 2024 election. So far, Maduro has refused to budge.
What happens if Machado wins the election?
It is unclear what would happen if a barred candidate wins the primary.
However, Machado has said that if she wins the primary, she will be able to pressure the electoral council to let her register for the general election.
Meanwhile, Reuters quoted an anonymous, senior US Department of State official threatening to reverse sanctions relief measures unless Maduro lifts bans on the electoral participation of opposition candidates.
Alternatively, if Machado is unable to register for the general election, another candidate from the opposition could fight in her place. Several candidates have said there is no unified decision about what to do and it is unclear whether the opposition will put forward a candidate of Machado’s choosing.
Will Maduro finally be challenged?
The opposition has an opportunity to put Maduro off balance “with the help of the United States and international community,” according to US think-tank the Atlantic Council. The opposition has the chance to mobilise voters who are tired of the stasis of current politics.
“What Maduro fears most, more than any one political opponent, is a disciplined opposition that is popular, organized, and ready to mobilize its base in 2024,” added the Atlantic Council report.
However, if Machado does not register for the general election, the odds could tilt in Maduro’s favour. “A fractured opposition with lowered turnout could allow Maduro to win a plurality,” said a report by the United States Institute of Peace.
When is the presidential election?
The presidential election will be held in the latter half of 2024, with the exact date unspecified so far.
Venezuela’s elections usually take place in December, though in 2018 voting was brought forward to May.