Venezuela’s Opposition to Self-Organize Primary Contest After National Electoral Council Resignations

Venezuela’s opposition’s “National Primary Commission” faces a tall order organizing a vote without the CNE.
Members of the Venezuelan National Assembly's Preliminary Commission of the Electoral Nominations Committee announce the next steps in the selection process for new CNE board members. (ANV)

Mexico City, Mexico, June 20, 2023 ( – Several board members of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) resigned from their posts Thursday leading the country’s opposition to announce that they will independently organize their primary voting contest.

CNE President Pedro Calzadilla announced during a press conference on Thursday that he and another lead member, Alexis Corredor, along with five substitute board members, had submitted their resignations, adding that they would remain in their positions until the National Assembly selected their replacements.

Calzadilla said the resignations were motivated by commitment to the country’s “economic prosperity and political and social stability” in the midst of negotiations between the government and the opposition ahead of the 2024 presidential vote.

A third primary board member, Roberto Picón, stated on Monday that he too would resign.

In response to these developments, the opposition’s “National Primary Commission” announced that it would independently organize the primary vote ahead of the 2024 election. That decision led to the resignation of Rafael Arráiz Lucca, one of the commission’s substitute members, who argued that without the support of the CNE an inclusive primary process would be “impossible”.

The commission faces a tall order organizing a vote without the CNE. Analysts have argued that a manual voting process is more vulnerable to vote rigging, undermining the legitimacy of the result. In 2017 the opposition independently organized a non-binding consultation that was plagued with irregularities.

Commission president José María Casal announced the holding of fundraisers to help finance the costs of organizing the primary vote.

Venezuela’s political opposition has long called for a renewed electoral authority. The outgoing board was selected in May 2021, with its members meant to serve seven-year terms. As the result of negotiations, two opposition figures drawn from the ranks of Venezuela’s moderate opposition were among those selected to serve on the five-member board.

Venezuela’s moderate opposition, which broke with the hardline opposition that at the time rejected participating in elections, welcomed the move. Meanwhile, hardline sectors headed by Juan Guaidó alongside their international allies such as the OAS’ Luis Almagro rejected the CNE board.

The outgoing electoral authorities most recently supervised the November 2021 regional elections that saw the United Socialist Party nearly sweep all of the governor’s posts up for grabs. Despite their previous protests, the 2021 vote also marked the return of Venezuela’s hardline opposition to the ballot. In 2022 the CNE supervised the opposition’s signature collection effort aimed at triggering a presidential recall vote. Opposition figures criticized the electoral authority’s role in that process, charging that they had given too little time to collect the 4.1 million signatures needed.

After years of pursuing regime change in Venezuela via unconstitutional means, the country’s hardline opposition has largely abandoned its abstentionist strategy. In February the opposition forces laid out a road map to hold a primary contest to choose a unified presidential candidate, announcing that they intended to hold a vote on October 22.

Among those who have declared their intention to seek the nomination is Maria Corina Machado, a far right politician who has enthusiastically embraced Washington’s regime change plots. Machado had previously feuded with the “National Primary Commission” over their initial decision to seek the support of the CNE. At a rally over the weekend, Machado said she would register as a contender in the primary on Friday.

Other confirmed candidates include former Bolívar governor Andrés Velásquez and former Miranda governor Henrique Capriles. Capriles, who lost presidential races in 2012 and 2013 and is currently banned from holding political office, urged the primary commission to ensure the participation of popular sectors so that the contest is not a ‘VIP process’.

Likewise at issue is the participation of Venezuelans abroad. The opposition is seeking to include them in the primary process, however that proposal was already complicated by the fact that the government of Venezuela does not count on diplomatic recognition in places such as the United States.

Ranking Chavista figure Diosdado Cabello said that only 24,000 Venezuelans abroad had registered in the commission’s platform to facilitate their vote, predicting that the primary process would be a “disaster”. Cabello also emphasized that NGOs are not permitted to intervene directly in the country’s elections, meaning they could not provide funding to support the opposition’s primary process.

Venezuela’s National Assembly has begun the process of selecting replacements for the outgoing CNE board members. The Assembly established Friday the Preliminary Commission of the Electoral Nominations Committee and on Monday the call for applicants for 10 citizens that will accompany the selection process was opened. Drawn from Venezuela’s civil society, these 10 committee members will join 11 lawmakers to create the short list of candidates that will eventually be voted on by the whole of the Assembly to determine the new CNE composition.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Mérida.