Ex-lawmaker Maria Corina Machado has claimed victory in the Venezuelan opposition primary, a position which would potentially allow her to challenge longtime socialist president Nicolas Maduro next year.
Former lawmaker Maria Corina Machado claimed victory in the Venezuelan opposition's primary on Monday after taking a significant lead with support above 90% in the latest partial returns which would potentially allow her to challenge Nicolas Maduro.
With 65% of the ballots counted on Monday afternoon, the organisers of the primary, the independent National Primary Commission, had not declared Machado the winner, but she had 1,473,105 votes or nearly 93% of the total and was far ahead of the other 9 candidates. Her closest competitor had just under 70,819 votes, a little over 4%.
Turnout for the opposition's presidential primary was strong, especially as those who cast their ballots did so defying repression, censorship and the weather.
Maduro, the longtime socialist president who is expected to seek a third term next year despite the crises that have marked his government, described the primary vote as a "fraud."
"It is regrettable that they are making fun of such an important group", Maduro said on Monday, referring to primary voters estimated at between 550,000 and 700,000. "It is the chronicle of a predicted death, the chronicle [...] of a predicted fraud", he continued.
"We respect this group [of voters] and I appeal to them: do not be fooled", Maduro added.
The presidential primary was the first since 2012 and required the opposition to really work together to achieve this result. And yet, Machado could be prevented from running for office next year should the government wish so.
While the administration agreed in principle to let the opposition choose its candidate for the 2024 presidential election, it also has already banned Machado from holding public office for 15 years, a move which could prevent her from submitting her candidacy next year.
Machado was previously accused by the government of corruption and of having supported the sanctions of the international community against Venezuela.
But on Monday she appeared confident in front of her supporters.
"What awaits us is an arduous road, we know it. We are all very clear about the nature of the regime we face, and this primary full of obstacles and challenges proved it", Machado said.
"[But] the bigger the obstacle they put in front of us, the bigger we get because we are going to overcome all the obstacles."
A fervent opponent of Chavism, named after Hugo Chavez, Machado wants to impose a liberal economy, including the privatization of public companies.