Venezuelan Supreme Court Suspends Opposition Primaries

Opposition lawmaker José Brito requested a judicial injunction over the process’ alleged “illegal and unconstitutional acts.”
Opposition lawmaker José Brito addresses the media following his petition to the Venezuelan Supreme Court soliciting an injunction concerning the opposition primary held last week. (VTV)

Mexico City, Mexico, October 31, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Electoral Branch of the Venezuelan Supreme Court suspended the opposition primary process that saw far-right opposition politician Maria Corina Machado chosen to represent the “Unitary Platform” in upcoming presidential elections.

The selection of Machado was conducted on October 22 by the self-styled National Primary Commission without the assistance of the country’s National Electoral Commission (CNE).

“All effects of the different phases of the electoral process conducted by the National Primary Commission are suspended,” read the Supreme Court ruling.

The motion to suspend the primary process was brought forward by José Brito, an opposition lawmaker that is at odds with the leadership of the “Unitary Platform” and its parties. Brito, who is described in the ruling as a “aspiring participant in the primaries”, requested an injunction by the court over the process’ alleged “illegal and unconstitutional acts.” 

The opposition lawmaker’s name did not appear on the ballot for the primary, having declined to participate months earlier.Part of Brito’s complaint stems from the inclusion of Machado, who is presently barred from holding public office, on the ballot.

“I have pointed out that in this accumulation of irregularities, the registration of disqualified people was allowed,” Brito told local media.

The lawmaker also pointed out that Súmate, one of the Non-Government Organizations involved in the primary, was founded by Machado. It was Brito who earlier this year requested an update on Machado’s political status from the Office of the Comptroller General which confirmed her political disenfranchisement.

The court’s ruling likewise ordered the National Primary Commission to submit various documents related to the vote. The commission rejected assistance from the CNE over a disagreement about the date of the vote, opting instead to use manual voting. The decision to abstain from using the CNE’s equipment and logistical support led to criticisms that a manual voting process would be vulnerable to rigging, undermining the legitimacy of the result. In 2017 the opposition independently organized a non-binding consultation that was plagued with irregularities. 

Among the documents requested by the court are the official voting records from the primary vote held on October 22. The National Primary Commission announced that 2.5 million voters participated in the primary process, however that figure immediately came under scrutiny

A technical consultant of the primary by the name of Nélson Rampersad claimed that turnout did not exceed 520,000. National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez later said in a press conference that the government estimated that 600,000 people voted. 

Despite over a week having passed since the vote was held, no voting tallies have been published online. It is not clear if the commission still has the documentation requested by the court, with Rodríguez claiming that it had already been destroyed as part of a cover-up effort. Rodríguez further claimed that as a result of the irregularities, the primary process runs afoul of agreements between the government and opposition signed earlier this month in Barbados.

A number of opposition politicians protested the Supreme Court decision, alleging that the primary election was a “civic” process. Veteran politician Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba argued that a process that has already been completed cannot be suspended.

Washington, which had already threatened to roll back sanctions relief, was at odds with Caracas, suggesting that it was the Maduro government who was not complying with the agreement.

“The U.S. government will take action if Maduro and his representatives do not meet their commitments,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The dispute over turnout is at the heart of a separate investigation, also filed by Brito alongside Rampersad, by the country’s Attorney General, who alleges that the organizers behind the primary process may have incurred in a crime by “usurping” the identities of millions of Venezuelans. 

In a press conference Wednesday, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the investigation would additionally look into the alleged “usurpation of electoral functions” among other crimes, including money laundering and conspiracy. Top figures from the National Primary Commission were summoned Monday to give a statement to the Attorney General’s office in Caracas.

María Corina Machado emerged as the runaway victor of the primary elections, with the commission announcing she had secured 93% of the vote. The Venezuelan government has insisted that her ban is justified for violations of the law and the Constitution and that it should not be removed ahead of the 2024 presidential contest.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.