María Corina Machado wins the primaries in Venezuela: What to expect?

María Corina Machado wins the primaries in Venezuela: What to expect?

Opportunitas Advisors

November 2, 2023

Wide victory

María Corina Machado, leader of the Vente Venezuela party, won the primary election by a wide margin and became the candidate of the Unitary Platform for the 2024 presidential elections. Machado obtained 92.35% of the votes according to the latest results bulletin (with 91.31% of the voting records counted). According to the reports, turnout was around 2.3 million voters and is considered a success for this type of contest.

Challenges

On June 30, 2023, the General Comptroller’s Office announced that Machado was banned from running for office, despite not having a legal case to justify the measure. Therefore, according to government authorities, Machado could not be a presidential candidate. Several public and private polls currently give Maria Corina Machado a wide advantage to defeat Maduro if the elections were held today, which creates incentives for the government to avoid a competitive election. Machado has maintained throughout the campaign her intention to register for the election and has stated that she will achieve her recognition, but she has not proposed a concrete strategy to consolidate her candidacy or a contingency plan in case she is not allowed to participate.

A week before the primary election, the government and the opposition signed two partial agreements focused on certain electoral guarantees that include international observation and an electoral calendar that sets the presidential election for the second half of 2024.

The United States

In the framework of the negotiations, the United States granted temporary licenses to authorize transactions with PDVSA for six months. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that “The license will only be renewed if Venezuela meets its commitments under the electoral roadmap, as well as other commitments with respect to those who are unjustly detained.” Blinken stressed that the United States has the “expectation and understanding that Venezuela will take the following steps before the end of November:

 

  1. Define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all All who want to run for President should be allowed the opportunity, and are entitled to a level electoral playing field, to freedom of movement, and to assurances for their physical safety.

  2. Begin the release of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners.”
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Relevant issues to monitor:

  1. María Corina Machado’s alliance strategy. As the new candidate, Machado must decide her strategy for expanding her base of political alliances. Voluntad Popular, the party that supported her candidacy, has already joined. All relevant candidates from the primaries, with the exception of Carlos Prosperi, accepted the results and showed their support for the candidate. We will need to wait and see how this support translates to specific actions during the campaign and if they will be asked to actively participate in the presidential campaign.
  2. The path to Maria Corina Machado’s qualification. The central question is whether her formal candidacy for the presidential elections will be achieved or if the government manages to maintain her ban. Her disqualification can have internal political consequences, including possible opposition splits, which will be mediated with the strategy that Machado proposes. If she is not allowed to participate, Machado could present a plan to replace her candidacy.
  3. The United States and sanctions. The United States has stated that the reinstatement of all candidates and the holding of competitive elections are express conditions for renewing the sanctions licenses. Blinken said that “it is our expectation and understanding that Venezuela will take the [aforementioned] steps before the end of November.” However, after her victory in the primaries, Venezuelan government officials have repeatedly indicated that Machado will not be eligible and have opened a legal proceeding against the opposition electoral process, calling it a fraud. If the Venezuelan authorities do not allow Machado to participate or proceed to use the legal system against the primary process, economic sanctions could be reimposed in six months, in April 2024.
  4. The government’s response, repression, and opposition response. The Venezuelan government could increase its persecution, pressures, and threats to provoke responses from the opposition. If Machado continues to be disqualified, it is possible to expect a scenario in which there is a new wave of protests, and the electoral route is discarded.
  5. Machado’s political message. The presidential candidate is expected to demand the lifting of her political ban in order to participate in the elections. If this objective is prioritized over voter mobilization, and it is perceived to be a personal vendetta that precedes alliance building and GOTV initiatives, this could lead to new divisions within the opposition and loss of public support in the face of the upcoming presidential elections.

The opposition delegation in the negotiation.

Now that she has been elected with an overwhelming majority, and with voter participation that far exceeded expectations for a primary, this could increase her influence in the negotiation process. After the recent agreement signed in Barbados, Machado expressed her support both for the agreement itself and for Gerardo Blyde, who has been leading the Unity Platform’s delegation.

However, Machado could propose a change in the make-up of the delegation, in the course of the negotiations or even a change to the objectives and timetables that the opposition has been working towards.

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