Venezuela: Far-Right María Corina Machado Wins Opposition Primary Elections

The anti-government politician is currently banned from political office due to her endorsement of sanctions and military intervention.
María Corina Machado, 56, casting her vote in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)

Caracas, October 23, 2023 ( – María Corina Machado emerged as the runaway victor of the primary elections organized by several US-backed political organizations on Sunday.

The electoral process, which was self-organized and relied on manual voting, began early morning but experienced delays after several of the 3,000 polling stations had to be changed at the last minute and electoral material was not delivered on time. According to reports, several voting centers remained open past the official 4 p.m. closing time because of long queues of people waiting to cast their votes.

Once voting centers closed, the National Primary Commission (CNP) claimed that a server blockage had delayed the counting process. A first briefing issued at midnight gave a resounding victory to far-right Machado with 93.13 percent of the vote after 26.06 percent of ballot boxes were tallied.

On Monday night, a second report ratified Machado’s lead at 92.56 percent with 64.88 percent of voting centers tallied, representing almost 1.6 million people. Some outlets have reported that participation will reach 2.3 million. However, analysts have pointed out that there are no mechanisms to verify the turnout figures.

The primary participation figures have drawn controversy, with commission technical consultant Nélson Rampersad claiming on Tuesday that turnout did not exceed 520,000. National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez said in a press conference that the government estimated that 600,000 people voted.

Machado’s nearest rival was former lawmaker Carlos Prosperi, who got 4.45 percent of the vote. As of the time of writing, the complete electoral results had not been disclosed. Prosperi aired several complaints of irregularities in the run-up to the vote, including that the process was being run by Súmate, an NGO founded by Machado.

In a press conference, the primary’s organizing commission president Jesús María Casal congratulated voters “for the demonstration of civility and democratic commitment.”

For her part, 56-year-old Machado gave a victory speech outside her campaign headquarters in Caracas, stating this was “the beginning of the end,” in reference to her pledge to defeat Chavismo in 2024 whatever it takes.

“Today, very powerful forces have been unleashed. We have shown ourselves what we are capable of doing in the face of all the obstacles,” she told supporters on Sunday night.

Machado is a close Washington ally that gained international prominence in 2005 after being hosted by then-US President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. If elected president, she has pledged to privatize state oil company PDVSA and public services while requesting financing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The opposition’s primaries mark a significant shift after a years-long abstentionist strategy and regime change efforts. The Venezuelan government has welcomed the move but has warned that opposition candidates that are presently banned from holding public office will not be able to run in the 2024 presidential election.

In 2015, Venezuela’s Comptroller General barred Machado from political office after she neglected to disclose the full extent of her earnings during her term as a congresswoman. The year before she had lost her seat after illegally accepting the position of a Panamanian diplomatic representative to address the Organization of American States (OAS), an act prohibited by the Venezuelan Constitution. 

The far-right leader has also been on the record calling for further sanctions against the country and endorsing a foreign military intervention. Although not directly involved, she supported the so-called “interim government” that sought to usurp the presidency as part of a US-led regime change effort to oust the Nicolás Maduro government. 

In June, Machado’s 15-year disqualification was ratified by Venezuelan authorities.

The Vente Venezuela party leader’s inability to run for president leaves her election as the unified opposition candidate in limbo. Some analysts predict that the right-wing parties will end up replacing her or launch several candidates, thus losing the unity factor.

On Monday, the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) high-ranking leader Diosdado Cabello reiterated that no amount of “pressure, blackmail or violence” will push authorities to reinstate Machado to participate in the presidential vote.

“Those who have called for invasions, coups d’état and sanctions against our people must receive the corresponding sanction according to the Constitution,” said Cabello during a press conference.

Besides Machado, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and Freddy Superlano from the far-right Voluntad Popular party are also barred from holding office. Both withdrew from the primary contest. 

Some media outlets had speculated that bans could be lifted with the resumption of talks between the Maduro government and the US-backed self-styled Unitary Platform. On October 17, the two parties met in Barbados and signed a deal laying out conditions for the upcoming presidential vote, scheduled for the second half of 2024. 

In the accords, the parties “recognize the right of each political actor to select its candidate for the presidential election freely and according to its internal mechanisms” while explicitly stating that the process will be held “in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”

Following the Norway-brokered deal, Caracas released five opposition prisoners while the US Treasury Department temporarily eased sanctions on Venezuelan oil, gas and gold sectors and lifted bans on the Venezuelan state and PDVSA bonds.

Nonetheless, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has threatened to revoke the six-month licenses if President Maduro does not reinstate banned opposition candidates by the end of November as well as free US citizens jailed in the South American country.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.

Amended on October 24 to include the controversy surrounding turnout figures.