Venezuela Supreme Court rejects results of primary election, jeopardizing agreement for free elections

Nov 1, 2023 | 0 comments

By Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera

Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal said on Monday it has suspended the results of an opposition presidential primary that took place this month, despite an electoral deal between the government and the opposition that allows each side to choose its candidate.

Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado speaks last week during an event to receive the credential as winner of the October 22 opposition’s primary election.

The ruling could risk the wrath of the United States, which this month rolled back some oil and gas industry and bond trading sanctions in exchange for the electoral deal.

The U.S. State Department has already said it will reinstate sanctions if the government of President Nicolas Maduro does not lift bans on some opposition candidates and free political prisoners and “wrongfully detained” Americans by the end of November.

The decision by the court, which the opposition considers an arm of the government, comes after the attorney general announced last week that his office is investigating the primary and members of its organizing commission for electoral violations, financial crimes and conspiracy.

Members of the organizing commission were meeting with prosecutors on Monday for interviews related to the case, the commission said on social media.

The opposition and the primary’s winner Maria Corina Machado have insisted repeatedly the Oct. 22 vote was transparent and fair.

The government has decried alleged fraud since the day of the vote, which was organized without state help and which attracted more than 2.3 million voters.

The government of Maduro, in power for a decade, and the opposition signed an electoral deal in Barbados, agreeing to international observers and that each side can choose its candidate according to internal rules.

“We urge Nicolas Maduro and his representatives to uphold the commitments they made at the signing of the political roadmap agreement,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The U.S. government will take action if Maduro and his representatives do not meet their commitments.”

Both the investigation and the ruling come at the request of lawmaker Jose Brito, who the court said wanted to participate in the primary.

Brito does not belong to any of the parties that took part.

“Following the request of preventative protection and in consequence, all the effects of the distinct phases of the electoral process conducted by the National Primary Commission are suspended,” the tribunal said on its website.

The commission must present all documents related to its creation, candidate registration, voting records and other documents, the tribunal said.

The commission must also account for the participation of candidates like Machado, who is barred from holding public office in a decision the opposition says is illegal.

The ruling “temporarily suspends the primary until there is a final decision from the tribunal,” said lawyer and university professor Jose Vicente Haro. “The tribunal is late to the decision because it comes after the primary. They shouldn’t have accepted the petition.”

Some observers said the opposition parties that participated in the primary should simply recognize Machado once again as their unity candidate, making any ruling on the contest moot.

The opposition this month declined electoral authorities’ offer of help organize the primary, and its request to delay the vote until November, after the authorities took several months to respond to the opposition’s request for assistance.
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Credit: Reuters

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