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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Maduro antagonist on track to win Venezuela primary

María Corina Machado, the leading opposition candidate, cast her ballot during the opposition primary election in a voting center in Caracas, on Oct. 22, 2023.

By Isayen Herrera and Genevieve Glatsky

A center-right candidate appeared headed to victory in Venezuela on Monday in a primary election to choose an opposition candidate to compete in presidential elections next year — a vote that could prove pivotal to the fate of a country that has endured a decade of economic crisis and authoritarian governance.

With about 26% of the vote counted by Sunday night, María Corina Machado, a former member of the country’s legislature, had won 93% of the vote in a 10-candidate race among parties seeking to challenge the rule of President Nicolás Maduro, according to a commission overseeing the balloting. Her nearest competitor had drawn less than 5% of the vote.

Machado declared victory in a speech around midnight.

“This is not the end yet, but it is the beginning of the end,” she told supporters at an outdoor rally in Caracas, the capital. “Today we have unleashed a very powerful force. Today we have shown ourselves what we are capable of doing.”

The question now becomes whether the Maduro government will reverse its decision to disqualify Machado, 56, from running in next year’s race. Analysts say she would pose a significant electoral threat to the president.

Voters across Venezuela braved heavy rains, threats and logistical hurdles to cast ballots, showing up in such large numbers that some polling sites had to stay open past the time they were scheduled to close. After years of watching their democracy erode amid scarcity, hunger and watching loved ones die of preventable diseases, the day felt extraordinary for many.

The election in this South American nation of roughly 28 million people took place with no official government support. Instead, the vote was organized by civil society, with polling stations in homes, parks and the offices of opposition parties.

About 2.3 million Venezuelans turned out to vote, the election commission said, a fairly high number that could indicate how engaged voters could be in a general election in 2024.

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