Venezuela: Presidential Field Narrows Ahead of July 28 Vote

Zulia governor Manuel Rosales stepped aside to endorse Unitary Platform candidate Edmundo González.
Edmundo González PUD
Edmundo González (front row, yellow tie) has the support of the US-backed opposition. (@unidadvenezuela)

Caracas, April 25, 2024 ( – The US-backed Venezuelan opposition has unified in support of a single presidential candidate.

On Tuesday, opposition party A New Era (UNT) announced it was supporting Edmundo González Urrutia, chosen by the self-styled Democratic Unitary Platform (PUD), in the upcoming July 28 vote.

UNT had previously registered its leader Manuel Rosales ahead of a March 25 deadline. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) established an April 23 limit for political outfits to replace their candidate with another one already on the ballot.

Last week, Zulia Governor Rosales declared he was dropping out of the race to endorse González after mainstream opposition parties agreed to back him. Rosales, who lost to former President Hugo Chávez in 2006, had pledged to support an eventual unity candidate after filing his candidacy at the last minute.

For his part, González Urrutia was originally described by analysts as a “placeholder candidate” as anti-government forces searched for a consensus. The Unitary Platform announced its “unanimous” decision on Friday.

A career diplomat, 74 year-old González had been absent from Venezuela’s political scene for several years before his surprise nomination. His last diplomatic post was as ambassador to Argentina. He was replaced in 2002 after endorsing a coup against Chávez.

While the Movement for Venezuela (MPV) followed UNT in switching its support from Rosales for González, Fuerza Vecinal instead chose to back center-right Antonio Ecarri. The decision has led to infighting within the party, with some high-ranking members announcing they will campaign in favor of the former ambassador.

González held a first meeting with PUD high-ranking officials on Wednesday to discuss electoral strategy. The confirmation of his candidacy was quickly followed by controversy over a purported leaked phone call from 2015 where he is heard making misogynistic and racist comments.

Far-right candidate María Corina Machado, who saw her political ban upheld by Venezuela’s Supreme Court in January over corruption allegations and support for US sanctions, likewise publicly endorsed González. 

Machado, who won a contentious primary race in October, had previously vowed to stay in the presidential race “until the end” and expressed hope that Washington’s threat to impose further economic coercive measures would force her into the ballot. On Wednesday, she pledged to continue campaigning and said González would “eventually assume the responsibilities associated with a presidential bid.”

The candidate field for the July 28 elections further narrowed in recent days after candidates Juan Carlos Alvarado (COPEI) and Luis Ratti (Democratic Right) announced their withdrawal and backing for Luis Eduardo Martínez (Democratic Action). Veteran politician Claudio Fermín was rumored to be weighing the same option but chose to stay in the race.

Right-wing candidate José Brito, who led an opposition sector in breaking with the US-aligned hardliners in 2019, also announced he was holding discussions about unified presidential candidacies.

On Tuesday, Brito received a favorable ruling from Venezuela’s Supreme Court awarding him control over Justice First (Primero Justicia, PJ) following a long-drawn judicial dispute. Electoral authorities awarded him a 48-hour extension to back one of the admitted candidates on the ballot.

PJ was mired in more judicial controversy after the Venezuelan Comptroller’s Office announced that three high-ranking party members were disqualified from holding public office for 15 years. Two officials from Fuerza Vecinal were barred as well. The Comptroller’s Office did not offer details of the charges.

Banned politicians include former Petare Mayor Carlos Ocariz, former National Assembly Deputy Tomás Guanipa and current El Hatillo mayor Elias Sayegh. Sayegh will be allowed to complete his term but not to pursue reelection in 2025. Several opposition figures issued statements criticizing the disqualifications.

Amidst opposition developments, President Nicolás Maduro and high-ranking United Socialist Party (PSUV) figures have expressed confidence in the former’s reelection bid.

During an international summit on Wednesday, Maduro pledged that the Venezuelan people would “teach a historical lesson” to the “fascist right” that has called for sanctions and foreign invasions.