The outcome of the political opposition’s primary elections has been put on hold by Venezuela’s highest court. This comes after María Corina Machado was chosen by a large margin last Sunday to compete against President Nicolás Maduro in the upcoming 2024 presidential race.
The court, which is filled with Maduro’s supporters, also confirmed the restrictions on running for office that were imposed on Machado and two other individuals.
The recent ruling on Monday aimed to question Machado’s qualifications and is likely to incite a response from the US. The US recently lifted sanctions on Venezuela in return for the government’s promise to conduct fair elections with supervision from European observers.
A spokesperson for the state department stated that there is a strong call for Nicolas Maduro and his representatives to honor the promises they made when signing the political roadmap agreement. The US government is prepared to take action if Maduro and his representatives fail to fulfill their commitments.
The recent decision by the court followed an announcement from Venezuela’s attorney general last week, stating that the primary elections, which were conducted without government involvement, are being investigated for possible financial crimes and conspiracy.
With a larger than anticipated number of voters and a victory in over 90% of the vote, Machado is predicted by analysts to have a strong chance of defeating Maduro in a just competition.
According to Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at Crisis Group specializing in the Andes region, the Chavista government can create more uncertainty about former lawmaker Machado’s ability to run by claiming that her selection was fraudulent and arguing that her ban is not relevant.
Gunson stated that there is no law or legal justification for this action.
The opposition leaders have denied the accusations regarding the primary procedure and have stated their support for Machado as the opposition’s chosen candidate.
“I want to emphasize my backing for the [primary elections] and the technical staff involved,” stated Delsa Solorzano, a representative in Venezuela’s national assembly. “Venezuela has spoken and no force can alter the determination of a country striving for change.”
In the past ten years, the combination of corruption, poor economic management, and oil-related sanctions has driven over 7 million individuals to leave Venezuela due to severe food shortages, extreme inflation, and frequent power outages.
Despite the country’s collapse, Maduro has managed to maintain control through manipulating elections, bribery of military officials, and using human rights violations to intimidate political opponents.
According to Gunson, the decision made by the supreme court has the potential to create even more division within the opposition. Some members are in favor of participating in the 2024 election, while others are pushing for a boycott.
He also mentioned that it is a method to make voters believe that the election is pointless and that casting a vote is futile.
The highest court has mandated the opposition to submit all documentation pertaining to the elections, including candidate registration and voter records, within three days. This will allow an electoral commission to investigate the accusations.
The opposing party has expressed worries that the papers may be utilized to target and harm the opposition, potentially affecting the upcoming elections.
Geoff Ramsey, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, stated that this action is a direct breach of the agreement made between the government and the opposition in Barbados. He also sees it as a significant escalation of the current political turmoil. Ramsey notes that Maduro appears unconcerned about the possibility of the US reinstating sanctions.