The National Electoral Council must set the date for elections to take place in Venezuela and the steps necessary to reach that point. On its own initiative, the Chavista ruling party has begun a public consultation process to establish a schedule. In it, some allied sectors have proposed their ideal day to vote. Political parties instrumentalized by the government, such as the so-called “moderate opposition,” businessmen and other allied sectors, have heeded the call of the National Assembly, led by Jorge Rodriguez. Opposition political alliance Plataforma Unitaria (Unitary Platform) — united in the claim that the candidate elected in the primaries, María Corina Machado, may compete — has been excluded from the debate. While some are throwing out possible dates for the elections, Nicolás Maduro has predicted that “he will win by hook or by crook,” as he asserted last Sunday, when the ruling party commemorated the 32nd anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s failed coup d’etat against Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government.
The electoral path decided in Barbados, which established that free presidential elections should take place in the second half of 2024, might have shortcuts. They can be found in the fine print of the agreements signed between the ruling party delegation and the opposition last October. At the time, the accords implied a breakthrough in the search for a way out of the political crisis after nearly a year of stalled talks. The date chosen may condition other agreements, such as the participation of all the disqualified candidates, which the official party has interpreted in the manner that suits them, prompting the United States to re-impose sanctions on some sectors and to threaten not to renew oil and gas licenses after April 18.
The Maduro government seems firm in its decision to jettison the participation of all candidates, as it has done on other occasions. In addition, the opposition had sought international electoral observers and an update of the voter registry, both of which take time. But the official party is in a rush. The most radical sectors have talked about holding the elections in the first quarter of 2024, which would not be enough time for anything. This Tuesday, the president of the electoral body, Conrado Pérez Briceño, said in an interview on local television that they are prepared to hold an election “in 35 days” if necessary. However, the consensus seems to be leaning toward July, which would technically fall within the second half of 2024, as prescribed by the Barbados agreements.
Several dates emerged from the public consultation, and a commission was formed from it that will present a proposal to the CNE next week. The enigmatic Luis Ratti, who has already launched his campaign as an electoral candidate and recently issued a legal threat to seize the name and symbols of Vente Venezuela (Come Venezuela), María Corina Machado’s organization, proposed the soonest date: April 14, 11 years since the election in which Maduro came to power after Chávez’s death. Ratti is part of the so-called “alacranes,” or “scorpions” in English, a sector that claims to oppose the government but plays in its favor.
Jose Brito, who also belongs to the “scorpions” group, proposed July 28, when the ruling party celebrates Chávez’s birth. A sector of the Democratic Action party, divided via the courts, suggests July 5th, Venezuela’s Independence Day. Daniel Ceballos, one of the disqualified candidates who has received a pass to run from the Supreme Court of Justice, said that it would be best to hold them between May and June. Another former presidential candidate and current deputy, evangelical pastor Javier Bertucci — who competed against Maduro in 2018 in elections that were not recognized by the international community — has proposed moving the date to October of this year.
In this consultation, the ruling party is once again encouraging the division of the opposition, which is again hamstrung by the judicial blockade of its candidate. The international community and the facilitators of the negotiations have insisted on returning to the Barbados road map, which includes allowing the participation of all candidates; but that principle was discarded on January 26, when the Supreme Court confirmed Machado’s disqualification for 15 years, although the justices have not yet published the complete ruling.
This electoral year is not just crucial for the opposition in its exhausting struggle for a change in government after 25 years of Chavista rule, which has been at its most authoritarian version in recent years. For Maduro, who has resisted damage to his legitimacy stemming from his disputed reelection after which international sanctions were imposed on him, he is seeking to consolidate his power in elections that will not only allow him to remain in office but also to be seen by the world as any other president as of January 10, 2025, when a new presidential term — and, perhaps, another stage in Venezuela’s deep crisis — will begin.
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